Today’s topic completes my third and last episode reflection on the book entitled “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible ” by Jay E. Adams. A question that we often ask ourselves is whether a divorced person can hold office in a local church? This question is not unique. In this day of many divorces and remarriages, churches are facing such issues more prevalently. They cannot and should not be avoided. Holding office can mean be an office bearers, ministry heads, teachers, etc. 1 Cor 6:9-11 makes it clear that Christ grants forgiveness for the sin of adultery. God forgives all sins in Christ. However, the forgiven person will have social consequences. And some churches will prohibit a person from holding office in that church. And the prohibition is not because he isn’t forgiven by God and the church but because an office bearer must “be an example in all things”. Some would folllow instructions from 1 Timothy 3:2,7 that one must be above reproach, one must have a good reputation with outsiders.
Hence we need much wisdom from God as we handle such issues. In God mercy, we often hear that after many years, an affected individual’s lifestyle subsequently may be such that God has changed his reputation. In my opinion, the church has no right to forbid what God allows. Hence, wisdom is much sought after by church leadership to determine in each instance, whether or not a given individual fits those qualifications.
The next question often asked is “whether remarriage after divorce is permitted”. A frequent referred text will be 1 Cor 7:27-28a: “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife? But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a bethrothed woman marries, she has not sinned”. The word “free” is also translated as “released “. WHEN Paul says that one must not seek to be released from a wife he doesn’t mean by death. The release or free mean -release by divorce. Hence it would seem that Paul allows for the remarriage of those released from marriage bonds (i.e. divorced ) even in a time of severe persecution when marriage, in general, is discouraged. And if we remember what we said in the first part of this three part series (God purposes in creating marriage). The key would be remarriage after divorced is allowed where one has been properly “released or free” from his or her spouse.
The many warnings and instructions that God gave to His children, concerning families, marriages and individual obedience need to be closely heeded by all. One example would be 1 Cor 7:39. When they are free to marry, they are not free to marry any and every person; they may marry only believers. BUT when applied to the remarriage of divorced persons, that Biblical ruling can have some vexing implications.
If a Christian man divorces an unsaved wife who wants to continue the marriage, he has sinned (1Cor 7:12,13). Upon repentance, he must seek not only God’s forgiveness for this sin (committed in the course of obtaining the divorce, but her forgiveness as well. Because , he is no longer married to her, and because he is required to marry “only in the Lord”, he is blocked by that rule from doing so and thus fulfilling his obligation. His sinful disobedience has led him into a difficult situation. So unless his former wife (now or at a later point) makes it clear that she no longer desires to become reconciled and remarried to him, he must wait and pursue her conversion and their subsequent remarriage. If she comes to the point of no longer wishing to remarry him, he is free (1 Cor 7:15).
Although there are still many areas not covered within this short reflection, we cannot run from the fact that there are many difficulties that often accompany this topic of divorce and remarriage. We may wonder why matters should become so complicated. The basic answer is clear: sin complicates life. Sometimes, complications also arise from the sin of the church in failing to do what God requires.
Let us remember how best we can work on all our families and marriages. The Word of God will give us good constant reminders if we take heed to read it daily. Spending time with families will need extra efforts from all parties concerned. And certainly all these will need the power of the Holy Spirit, who will strengthen us in submitting to God in prayers.
Ref: Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage in the Bible (Jay Adams)
Elder Andrew Lim