Marriage is major milestone for any man or woman, and weddings are always joyous occasions that we look forward to. However, we are also seeing an increasing trend of marriages ending in divorce. In Singapore, there were 25,434 who were married in the year 2019; in that same year, there were 7,623 divorces. In other words, for every 10 marriages that happened in Singapore, 3 divorces were happening at the same time. In the US, in 2019, for every 10 marriages, there were 5.5 divorces. Nowadays, it is no longer surprising for Christians to meet people who had been divorced and remarried once or more times in their lives. Hence, it is important for us to be clear on this subject: what does the Bible say about marriage, divorce, and remarriage?
“Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6)
Marriage is an institution that God established way back in the Garden of Eden. God saw that it was not good that Adam was alone; hence, He created Eve as a companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18). This tells us that marriage is important for companionship and mutual support (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Marriage is also important for sexual fulfilment (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) and for child-rearing (Ephesians 6:1-4). God has even used the marriage relationship to teach important lessons about our own relationship with our Lord Jesus (Ephesians 5:22-25).
As important as marriage is, it is not the be-all and end-all. Marriage is not the Christian’s ultimate goal in life. Our ultimate goal is, of course, to love God wholeheartedly (Matthew 22:37-38), and our hope is to reach Heaven at the end of this life (2 Corinthians 4:18). Ideally, our marriage should aid in this ultimate goal, just as Aquila and Priscilla supported one another in serving the Lord (Romans 16:3-5). That would indeed be a wonderful union. However, our marriage could also potentially be a hinderance to us, just as Jezebel hindered Ahab from following God (1 Kings 21:25).
At the end of the day, marriage can be a blessing for those who are able to find a suitable spouse (Proverbs 18:22). However, marriage can also be a hindrance if the husband and wife do not help one another in serving God (2 Corinthians 6:14). This reminds us of the importance of choosing our spouses wisely and carefully (Proverbs 31:10-12). Perhaps, there are some in this world who are better off staying unmarried, so that they can serve the Lord single-mindedly, just as the apostle Paul did (1 Corinthians 7:8, 34).
“He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8)
The marriage union is no ordinary union: God Himself joins the couple in the marriage. Hence, no man is allowed to separate this divine union without God’s approval (Matthew 19:6). The Bible teaches us that marriage is a life-long union; it will only be dissolved by the death of either party (Romans 7:2). Those who would prematurely separate from their wives are described to have “dealt treacherously” against them; by divorcing their wives, they are betraying the “wife of thy covenant” and the “wife of his youth” (Malachi 2:14-16).
Under the Old Covenant, God allowed divorce to happen: a man could write a bill of divorcement and send his wife away (Deuteronomy 24:1-2). Some Jews had abused this law to divorce their wives for the pettiest reasons. However, Jesus taught God had only allowed it, for a temporary time, because of the hardness of their hearts (Matthew 19:8). From the beginning, God had never meant for divorce to happen!
In 1 Corinthians 7:10, the apostle Paul reiterates the Lord’s command, that the wife should not divorce from her husband (and vice versa). If divorce were to happen, the wife should either remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband (1 Corinthians 7:11). Our Lord Jesus taught that there is only valid reason for divorce: fornication (Matthew 19:9).
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9)
If a woman cheats on her husband by committing fornication with another, the man is permitted by God to divorce her, and to remarry. However, if he had divorced her for any other reason, and remarried, that new marriage would not be accepted by God; In God’s eyes, that new union constitutes an adulterous relationship (Matthew 19:9). Adultery is sin, and must be stopped immediately! (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). As the apostle Paul had explained, there are only 2 ways to move forward from an invalid divorce: either to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to your rightful spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Hence, anyone who divorces and remarries without a valid reason will be committing adultery. The only valid exception is when one divorces his spouse due to fornication. Furthermore, when we read Jesus’ instructions, it is obvious that this is a permission given only to the innocent party of such a divorce. The guilty party (i.e. the fornicator) does not share that right to remarry. If he repents of his sin, he most certainly can receive forgiveness from God. Perhaps he can even be reconciled to his ex-spouse. However, if his ex-spouse had remarried, then he loses that option: the only path left for him is to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
In a world where many have gotten themselves into multiple divorces and remarriages, God’s teaching on this issue may be hard to swallow. As Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone can receive this saying” (Matthew 19:11 ESV). Some who desire to follow Jesus may find it difficult to relinquish their present relationship in order to be reconciled to their rightful spouse. Note that even baptism cannot change an adulterous relationship into a holy one. In order to follow Jesus, they must be prepared to obey Jesus’ commands, even the commands regarding marriage, divorce and remarriage. We commend those who made that personal sacrifice for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake (Matthew 19:12).