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1 Corinthians 7:10-16 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 42 secs

To Remain Married or Divorce; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16


One of the problems when we get into the area of marriage and divorce is that we always run into a certain amount of legalism. One of the characteristics of legalism is that we like to have set rules, we like to know exactly what to do in certain circumstances. Often the Word of God does not tell us what to do in very circumstance. It gives us general principles and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and based on our own spiritual maturity we have to apply those general principles to our circumstances. This is part of what the Bible calls wisdom.

We live in a time, as every believer has in the church age, when our concepts of marriage and the role of the husband and the role of the wife are always affected to a certain degree by the cosmic system surrounding us. We live in an age which has been tremendously impacted by the influence of radical feminism since the 60s, as well as an almost anti-male mentality, and so that has left many men wondering just exactly how they are to operate as husbands.

Somebody emailed a list of rules so that men can get a greater grasp of what is expected of them today!

1)  The female always makes the rules.

2)  The rules are subject to change at any time without prior notification.

3)  No male can possibly know all the rules.

4)  The female suspects that the male knows all the rules and she must immediately change some or all of the rules.

5)  The female is never wrong.

6)  If the female is wrong it is because of the flagrant misunderstanding which is the direct result of something the male did or said wrong.

7)  The female can change her mind at any given point in time.

8)  The male must never change his mind without express written consent from the female.

9)  The female has every right to be angry or upset at any time.

10)  The male must remain calm at all times unless the female wants him to be angry or upset.

11)  The female must under no circumstances let the male know whether or not she wants him to be angry or upset.

12)  Any attempt to document these rules could result in bodily harm. 

In the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage we have to remember the context. This is so important when we get into the passages that relate to the subject of marriage and divorce because one of the problems is that when Paul states certain general principles he is stating them in light of questions that are being asked and the context of the situation, especially here in Corinth. Remember, the key issue here was celibacy. They were distorting the idea of celibacy, applying it to marriage and saying that it was more spiritual to be celibate than to not be celibate. They were casting aspersions on the concept of intimacy and sex in marriage. Paul addresses in the first seven verses. In verse 8 he begins to address three different groups of people in relationship to this. And we have to come to another understanding here, that Paul has made it clear (2 Cor. 9) that it is not God's plan for believers to be married to unbelievers, it would lead the congregation to the conclusion that if one is married to an unbeliever then it is somehow defiling for me to have sexual relations with an unbelieving spouse, and it is perhaps defiling to my spiritual life to be married to an unbeliever. So that is one of the reasons Paul addresses the unbeliever in this section as well.

So there are three basic sections here. In verse 8 he says, "But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I." There he addresses one particular group: those who are unmarried, and by unmarried he uses the Greek word AGAMOS [a)gamoj] a general word for those who have never been married and those who are divorced. We know that from verse 11 where he is addressing the believing wife: "(but if she does leave [is divorced], she must remain unmarried [AGAMOS], or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife." There he lays down this principle that it is good for them to remain as he is. This is a crucial principle to understand throughout this entire section, that Paul thinks it is better to remain in the state they are in, and if single it is better to stay single, because you can give more time to serving the Lord. This is not that it is an inherently more spiritual position but simply because the single person has fewer responsibilities. He is not contradicting the divine institution of marriage or the Christian institution of marriage and it is wrong to put an inordinate emphasis on what he is saying there. But we must understand in this context that a general overriding principle here is that Paul keeps saying to stay in the condition you are in. That doesn't mean that it is wrong, immoral, or a sin to change that condition. This runs into a problem with so many believers because we want every situation to be cut and dried; it is either right to do this or it is wrong to do this. Paul will qualify some of these general statements as we go through the text. So it is important to recognize that Paul's approach is to state a general principle, and then he comes in and relates certain exceptions to that principle and applies it in different situations.

In verse 10 he addresses married believers. In verse 12 he addresses the rest, and by the rest we see by the context in vv. 12-16 that it applies to those believers who are married to unbelievers. So the primary theme in these verses, as in every verse that relates to the subject of marriage and divorce, is that the divine ideal for marriage is one partner for life.

Four principles

1)  God does not regulate sin. God prohibits, forbids sin but God doesn't regulate sin. One of the problems that we have when we talk about marriage is that some people get the idea that in marriage when a man and a woman marry this creates some sort of indissoluble, unbreakable, ontological, almost a metaphysical union that no matter what happens can never be broken. That presents a number of problems because Scripture clearly recognizes, as in Deuteronomy 4, that if a man divorces his wife and she marries another one that she is now the wife of that second husband. If there is this sort of unbreakable, indissoluble union that occurs then she can never legitimately be called the wife of somebody else. It is the same in John chapter four where Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman and recognizes that she has had five husbands. It doesn't state that they all died but the chances are that those five men did not die and that they were divorced. Jesus clearly recognizes in His discussion with her that she is not now the husband of anyone, so He recognizes the legitimacy of those divorces and that they ended the marriage. That is important because there are many people who believe that there is no provision in the Scriptures for divorce at all or remarriage, and yet there is at least those two examples that the Lord Himself recognizes the reality of the ending of a marriage. But God doesn't regulate sin, therefore that means that there is validity to divorce and remarriage under some conditions. Those modifications have been made because of the reality of sinfulness. God is a realist and He understands the problems that have entered into human history because of the sin nature. So God deals with man in grace and grace is an overriding principle that must be understood when talking about this subject.

2)  Because of the present reality of sin the exceptions must not be taken as creating a permissive situation where marriage is viewed as somehow disposable. Because of the present reality of sin and because of the fact that Scripture clearly recognizes that people are going to have problems in marriages and marriages are going to break up, that this must never be taken as creating any kind of permissive situation where marriage is viewed as somehow disposable. The standard in Scripture is even though there may be exceptions those exceptions don't mandate divorce, they simply allow for it in certain circumstances. But for the believer the standard is always to do as much as possible to work out the problems in the marriage, applying the principle of reconciliation. And the sub-text throughout all these passages is, if the believer can't apply the principle of reconciliation in his own personal life how can he be an effective witness or testimony to the doctrine of reconciliation in witnessing. So we have to recognize that just because there are problems and just because there are exceptions it doesn't mean that you necessarily have to follow those exceptions.

3)  The tone of all the divorce passages in Scripture is not to focus on the exception idea but on the importance of the believer applying doctrine to the situation and seeking reconciliation and peace in the marriage, even though this may take years or decades. What we tend to do it ask: How can I get out of it? Marriage testing is one area of people testing that is extremely difficult, and when people are going through that it is very typical, as with all categories of testing, is to have uppermost in the mind how to get out of the situation.

4)  The two extremes must be avoided. The first extreme is one that every one of us has probably felt at one time or another is to rationalize a justification. One often hears the rationalisation in one form or another: God would not want me to be this miserable. What that person has done is to buy into a completely false premise. How many times do we get involved in some form of testing, some form of adversity, that is going to go on and on and on for years, if not decades. The real test is to trust God in the midst of those horrible circumstances, not to figure out some way to get rid of them. What we are really saying by this rationalisation is that God wouldn't want me to go through that adversity. That just runs contrary to Scripture. God often allows or specifically puts us in miserable circumstances, and miserable circumstances that may last a lifetime, in order for us to learn that real happiness and stability in life is not dependent on those circumstances. Real happiness and real stability in life is not dependent on a spouse, children, a job, finances or any detail of life. So we have to avoid that pressure to make it too easy to come up with reasons or justifications to allow for divorce. On the other hand we have to allow for yielding to the pressure of legalism and idealism without accepting the present reality of sin: that there are situations where one partner yields to carnality to such a degree that it is no longer feasible for one partner to stay in that marriage. A lot of different conditions that are not addressed in Scripture are present today such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, etc. Many of these situations do not necessitate a divorce (in fact, none of them make a divorce necessary) but there is Scriptural allowance for the fact that divorce can take place under some of these circumstances. While it may not be sin to divorce it may not allow for remarriage.

1 Corinthians 7:10 NASB "But to the married I give instructions [commandment], not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband." Paul is addressing married believers.  The word that is translated here for "not leave" is the Greek word CHORIZO [xwrizw] in the aorist passive infinitive. Many people want to emphasize something about the passive voice here which is where the subject is acted upon, and would look at this passage and try to translate it that a wife is not to be divorced from her husband, as if she is not the initiator. However, in Greek grammar there are a number of verbs that when they occur in the passive infinitive (CHORIZO is one of them) it has more of a reflexive connotation and is equivalent to a middle voice verb. So the passive voice doesn't say anything about who initiates the divorce in this circumstance. There are three different words in this passage, beginning in verse 10, that are used in Greco-Roman culture for divorce and CHORIZO is the first of these. So this should be translated: "…that the wife should not divorce her husband" or "to be divorced from her husband." Either idea would be present there but the fact that he is addressing the wife would indicate that she is not to initiate leaving. But even if she does… [11] "(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife." By introducing the conditional clause here Paul recognizes that there are legitimate reasons for her leaving.

In verse 12 when he says, "I say, not the Lord," he recognizes clearly that he is addressing a situation in vv. 10, 11 that the Lord addressed in Matthew 5:19 where the Lord recognizes there is a clear exception, and this is the realm of immorality. So that must be understood as a background for this. He is not stating a universal principle here that if the wife leaves she is to stay unmarried. He is recognizing in the background that there is a legitimate reason to be divorced—immorality. But this has to do with other areas, that if she leaves, other than those that are legitimate, then she has two options. That is to remain unmarried or to be reconciled to her husband.

One of the things that we have to recognize in this whole subject, and that we will get to eventually in a little more detail, is that it doesn't really matter here who initiates. Paul is not addressing who initiates or who doesn't initiate a divorce.

"…and that the husband should not divorce his wife." Here we get into the second word in this passage that is used for divorce, and that is APHIEMI [a)fihmi]. This is the same word that is translated "forgiveness" in other passages, and it has the ideas in this context of forgiving a contractual obligation, so it came to be used as a word for divorce. The principle in verses 10 and 11 for two believers who are married is that unless there is an exception [some kind of sexual infidelity and desertion] there is no room for remarriage. The idea is that all these other problems can be solved through the use of the problem-solving devices and the application of doctrine, and God's grace is sufficient.

1 Corinthians 7:12 NASB "But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her." Now Paul addresses the unbeliever. Remember, the background for this is that he has made several statement about the fact that believers shouldn't be joined with unbelievers. He has clearly taught the principle in 1 Corinthians 6, that they weren't to be involved with those who were immoral, to be careful who they associate with. So it would be easy for these Corinthians to rationalize this and say, Well, I married an unbeliever so that ought to give me grounds for divorce. Paul does not allow that, he doesn't give them any wiggle room there. Marriage is a divine institution for believer and unbeliever alike, so the basic rules for marriage and divorce are for believer and unbeliever alike and it doesn't matter if the divorce is before or after salvation because the principles that Paul is going to outline here are the same for believer and unbeliever whether there are two believers, two unbelievers, or a believer and an unbeliever involved in marriage. When we come to Christian marriage where there are two believers there is clearly a higher standard. When there is the marriage of a believer and an unbeliever or the marriage of two unbelievers there is a different set of standards but it doesn't nullify the marriage or make it any less of a binding contract. In this verse we have the same word as used in verse 11, APHIEMI. He address the man who is a believer and is married to a wife who is not a believer. What Paul says is that he is not to initiate divorce, at least for the reason that she is an unbeliever. He is not to initiate a divorce on the basis of the spiritual status of the partner. If the unbelieving wife consents to stay then he is not to divorce her for that reason.

1 Corinthians 7:13 NASB "And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away." So the principle in verses 12 & 13 is that if it is a mixed marriage, believer and unbeliever, that the spiritual status of the unbelieving spouse is not be a basis for the believer to initiate a divorce. Then Paul is going to explain why this is so in vv. 14, 15. This is important to understand because of the background.

1 Corinthians 7:14 NASB "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy." "For" is the explanatory GAR [gar] which always give an explanation for a previous statement. To make this verse simple it is simply an example of blessing by association. Paul is not saying that somehow the unbelieving husband is positionally sanctified by the fact that he is married; he is not saved by virtue of his marriage; he is not being sanctified or growing spiritually by virtue of being married to a believing wife, but because she is a believer and because God is going to be blessing her the unbelieving husband is going to be blessed buy association.

Now we get and exception in verse 15. What happens if the unbelieving spouse leaves? 1 Corinthian 7:15 NASB "Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such {cases,} but God has called us to peace." Here we have the word for divorce again, CHORIZO [xwrizw]. If the unbeliever initiates divorce, let him leave. The believing husband or the believing wife is not under bondage in such cases, "but God has called us to peace." What does it means to be not under bondage in such cases? That means that the believer is not bound by the marriage contract in these circumstances. This allows them, then, to remarry. This same principle is extrapolated to apply also to believer-believer relationships. When the believer operates like an unbeliever and divorces/deserts the spouse, then that also allows for remarriage on the part of the one who is left, the innocent party, they are not under bondage in such cases. It is a case of application that if this is true for an unbeliever, if it is true in the case of marriage at all, it is true for both believer and unbeliever. Then the principle is stated: "but God has called us to peace." That is that God has called the believer to live in peace and not in a state of constant bickering and fighting, and therefore it is not for the believer to go and constantly try to get the unbelieving spouse to come back and put them into some kind of enslavement in the relationship. So this allows for the case of desertion, that if the unbeliever leaves and gives up all responsibility and accountability in a marriage, then the believer is not bound in those cases.

There may not be anything that is more of a test than for someone who is living with an unbeliever, especially and unbeliever who is hostile to their spiritual life and their positive volition to doctrine. Peter addresses this is 1 Peter 3:1 NASB "1 Pet 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any {of them} are disobedient to the word [either and unbeliever or carnality], they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, [2] as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior." What is difficult for a woman is that they look at this husband who has destroyed every basis for their respect for them and they ask how they can respect him. The principle here is respect for the office, even though the individual who possesses the office is not worthy of respect. [3]   "Your adornment must not be {merely} external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; [4]  but {let it be} the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. [5] For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; [6] just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear."

[7] "You husbands in the same way, live with {your wives} in an understanding way," – on the basis of understanding doctrine and grace orientation] – "as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. [8] To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; [9] not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing."

The doctrine of marriage failure

1)  We have to recognize that marriage is a divine institution for believer and unbeliever alike. Therefore the general principles of marriage and divorce apply despite your spiritual status. The rules for marriage are the same because marriage is a divine institution for believer and unbeliever alike.

2)  In the New Testament marriage for believers take son an additional and higher significance because in marriage the believer has an opportunity to be a corporate testimony in their marriage in the angelic conflict. There was a failure in the marriage in the garden of Eden and as two believers grow and advance in maturity they have the opportunity to reverse the negative testimony of marriage in the garden and to present something as a positive testimony to the grace of God in the angelic conflict.

3)  However, we need to recognize that it takes two to make a marriage successful and one to make a marriage miserable.

4)  One of three things can happen when a marriage becomes difficult: a) You decide to stick with it and endure the situation. That doesn't means that if you are being physically abused or there is drug abuse or you are in danger of being defrauded financially that you should stay in that situation; b) the second option is separation without remarriage; c) under the two circumstances of either sexual infidelity or the fact that the other person has left, has deserted the marriage and is not going to take any more responsibility or accountability for the marriage, that that also ends the marriage contract. Only under those two circumstances is there freedom to remarry.

5)  In a mixed marriage only the unbeliever can make the decision and take the initiative in divorce.

6)  Only biblical divorce provides the right to remarry.

7)  Divorce and remarriage were clearly permitted under the Mosaic law, the only exception being in Deuteronomy 24:3, 4 is that the wife once divorce and remarried to somebody else could not come back and remarry the first husband.

8)  In the Old Testament the man always initiated the divorce, but nevertheless even in our culture the principle works both ways because both women and men can initiate a divorce.

9)  In John 4 Jesus recognized that the woman at the well and had had various marriages was no longer married to any of them. That emphasizes the legitimacy or the reality of divorce that ends a previous marriage.

10)  Divorce and remarriage is allowed for PORNEIA [porneia] in Matthew 5:32; 19:9, which is an act of sexual infidelity, desertion in 1 Corinthians 7:15, and the divorce gimmick were even though you are the innocent party you have been forced or manipulated into initiating the divorce.

11)  If you remarry a divorced person who is not legitimately divorced on biblical grounds, or either both of you do not have a biblical cause for the previous divorce, then the law of the status quo comes into play. That means stay in the marriage you are in. This is where confession and forgiveness, grace, comes in.

1 Corinthians 7:16 NASB "For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?"