Dluxe's World

Thursday, March 6

(re)Marriage - Matthew 5:31-32 [3]

Building off these two posts, we're now at the point of trying to frame a Biblical response to the common 'application' questions that spring out of reading Matthew 5:31-32. I think there are three questions that we might need to answer:
  1. How do we counsel someone who is considering a divorce based on their husband/wife's infidelity?
  2. What obligations does a single person who previously was divorced (for any reason) have to their single, former spouse in light of this teaching?
  3. How does our counsel change if one or both parties have remarried?
These questions can obviously be situationally nuanced many ways... Still, I think this gives us broad categories that will be helpful. Also I'm assuming, for the purpose of this exercise, that we're dealing with professed believers on both sides of the relationship.

For illustration, let's create a fictitious couple - John and Suzy. John and Suzy are both professing Christians, valued members of a local church, and have exhibited evidences of God's grace (fruit) in their lives (though, as this picture demonstrates, that grace hasn't crossed into the area of 'fashion'). John, seemingly out of nowhere, is discovered to have entered into an affair with a woman from his office. Suzy is deeply grieved over this development but desires, above all, to honor Christ with her conduct towards John.

1) How do we counsel Suzy, who is considering a divorce due to John's marital infidelity?
I think, based on Scripture, that the over-arching theme that should be present in the interrelating of two Christians is that of 'grace'. While the pain of adultery is deep and very, very real, adultery is still a sin for which Christ died in order to secure forgiveness from God. As we each recognize the vast depth of our sin before God's holiness, we should see other people's failings in a completely different light than the rest of the world. Believers should also understand that, while we are profoundly impacted by these sins 'against us', the fact is that the core issue is the offense against our holy God.

I am convicted, given the deep meanings applied to marriage in the Old and New Testaments and given the grace we see displayed in Christ, that a Suzy should seek marital reconciliation - even facing John's adultery. The provision for divorce in the Law is just that - a provision, and not a command. If there is a even glimmer of hope that the marriage can be reconciled (that is, if the John attempts to stop his behavior and professes any repentance), then I think we must pursue the restoration. God is glorified in making right those things that seem completely beyond any human expectation of peace.

This kind of humility and commitment on the part of both husband and wife is, in itself, an evidence of grace. And those around the couple must join in crying out to God for His hand to be evidenced in the knitting back together of what has been torn. Without the miraculous work of God's Spirit in this marriage, true, Biblical restoration is humanly impossible.

That said, if John continues to chase after sin through repeated/continued infidelity and scornful indifference towards restoration of the marriage, I think there is ground for the Suzy to seek a divorce. In the OT, we noted that the penalty for adultery was death and that such a penalty ends earthly marriage. Similarly, a complete ly debased pattern of adultery and hardheartedness at least starts to release Suzy from her marital obligation. HOWEVER, this must never be seen as a 'good thing'. It is sad beyond words - the option of absolute last resort and cannot be taken without considerable attempts to extend grace/mercy and after much prayer. And even so, I can't help but hear overtones of 1 Corinthians 5 ringing that the ultimate purpose of this action would (hopefully) be to restore John and bring him back into right relationship with Christ.

2) John's continued pattern of sin results in Suzy pursuing a much-grieved divorce. Two years later, God graciously breaks John's heart over his sin and he leaves his lover. He finds that Suzy has still not remarried. What obligations do they now have to one another?

Assuming true repentance from John, the marriage should be restored. Period. The couple should seek Biblical counseling through, and in subjection to, their local church with a definite plan to work through the (undoubtedly) lingering issues and legally reconstitute the marriage.

In God's eyes, the covenant of marriage was clearly intended to be one man with one woman for one lifetime. Since restoration is possible, it must be pursued. As noted above, the mercy and grace required for these two people to truly knit themselves together again is massive - but God is able and we must place our trust in Him. There is a long, slow road ahead of John & Suzy, but it is the right road to be on.

3) Suzy and John's divorce has been final for several years. After a time, Suzy meets another man through her church and remarries. Later, John is crushed over his previous sin by the ministry of the Spirit. What obligations do John and Suzy have to one another?

I think the conduct here is straightforward... John should seek to communicate his (genuine!) sorrow and repentance to Suzy for the pain he caused in their marriage. True forgiveness should be extended to one another. However, under no circumstances should Suzy or John consider 'striking up the old band again'. Suzy has now married - with the full weight of the Biblical obligations - another man. The idea that some people have of tearing on marriage up to restore another is ludicrous!

I hope it is obvious that a massive amount of pastoral care and discernment will need to be applied here. For example, John should not contact Suzy directly. Instead, his peace-making overtures should be sent through Suzy's church/pastors or through her husband. Clearly, the emotionally-charged nature of the situation implies that contact through the church might be the better option. I would also think that Suzy's husband or one of her pastors should be present for any and all communication she has with John.

The purpose of these conversations is to allow both John and Suzy to repent to one another and extend forgiveness. Once that is done, I think it is wise for them to go their separate ways and not maintain contact for at least some time. Suzy is now another man's wife, and nothing in this reconciliation process should be allowed to deceptively compromise her marriage through stirring 'old flames' for her former husband. Indeed, I would say that if John had heard Suzy was 'newly married' he should just hold his peace until the new couple has firmly settled into their marriage. As it is (fictitiously, that is), John and Suzy must set clear, appropriate boundaries with discerning input from those people who keep watch over their souls.

I suppose it is possible that, in time, John and Suzy (and their new spouses) may build a friendship. If so, what a beautiful picture of how God's grace is able to restore and make new! Nonetheless, the purpose of repentance/reconciliation at this stage is different than before: Here, John's coming forward to seek reconciliation should be seen as a way to enable Suzy, his sister in Christ, to be a better wife to her new husband and freed from past guilt to serve her Savior. John's 'future' relationship with Suzy must be a distant afterthought in everyone's mind.

So, there are some thoughts that I pray are rooted in Scripture... I'd welcome your thoughts and counsel, dear readers.


  • Leslie McFall has an interesting way to deal with the so-called exception clause in Matthew 19:9 that some hold allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of marriage unfaithfulness.

    He has written a 43 page paper that reviews the changes in the Greek made by Erasmus that effect the way Matthew 19:9 has been translated. I reviewed McFall's paper at Except For Fornication Clause of Matthew 19:9. I would love to hear some feedback on this position.

    I also wrote an article on the most popular scriptural reasons that people give for Divorce and Remarriage.

    By Anonymous More Christ Like, at 1:22 AM, November 24, 2008  

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