Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jesus and Paul: concessions for the divorced, abandoned and unmarried

The marriage union between a man and a woman often becomes a battleground. The conflict between the two is bad enough, but I am referring to the disputes which arise in the minds of others when the end of that union is divorce. Specifically, it is when the reason for that divorce was something other than the unfaithfulness of sexual immorality by one of the spouses in the marriage.
Of course, the travesty and ravages of divorce on personal happiness are often revisited upon those who had put that in their past and moved on with love and to love again. This re-visitation of their past occurs when he or she learns, with a fair measure of their own misunderstanding, that they have been measured and burdened by someone else's understanding of the scriptures in a way beyond their comprehension. This, perhaps, even as they have come in search of Jesus to draw near to God. It is at this point that they are (mis)informed by some saints in Christ of their illicit marriage. Sometimes the specific advice, in the form of a command, is given to them to end the illicit marriage, go back to their (original) spouse, or remain unmarried.

It is an understatement to say this teaching, or information, of the scripture leaves something to be desired. Of course, the goal of studying the scriptures is not to find what we like or what makes us feel good. Yes, there is much in the scriptures which we may like and which may make us feel good. Certainly, the many discourses and debates and every manner of interpretation of scripture on the subject of marriage and divorce, some liked, some not liked, which the saints have heard in those discourses remain at serious odds with both, Jesus and Paul on the subject of marriage and divorce. Often, the picture which is painted is dismal and obscure. It is devoid of the message of love and mercy which nonbelievers hear from the saints in Christ. This article represents a brief look and examination of this teaching from the English text with emphasis on the concessions and commands as presented, first by Paul as well as Matthew's gospel account to see what Jesus presented on this matter.

man and woman in relationship

The apostle Paul addresses three (the fourth involves the unmarried and virgins) different relationships involving a man and a woman in the seventh chapter of I Corinthians 7:

1) A general statement of advice (verses 1 - 6) which could hold true just as well for nonbelievers as for believers a) not to marry, (The unusual nature of this general statement is that Paul’s letters are not addressed to the nonbeliever. Paul does not presume to impose the truth and weight of this general statement on nonbelievers. The statement represents a common reality and a matter of fact, of the fundamental human need for dignity and love as between a man and a woman.) b) to show and maintain respect for each other in and with affection/authority and consent for one another,

2) He advises the unmarried and widows, that is, those who were at one time married to remain unmarried, [notice his use of the term, gift*] (verses 7 thru 9)

1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But, because of sexual immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband give his wife the affection owed her,* and likewise also the wife her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise also the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife. 5 Don’t deprive one another, unless it is by consent for a season, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, and may be together again, that Satan doesn’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control.6 But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. 7 Yet I wish that all men were like me. However each man has his own gift* from God, one of this kind, and another of that kind. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. 9 But if they don’t have self-control, let them marry. For it’s better to marry than to burn.

3) He commands (with deference to Jesus) the married believers to stay married and to remain unmarried with a view to being reconciled should one spouse leave. (verses 10 & 11)

10 But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband 11 (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife. Lastly, he advises

4) the unmarried and virgins to remain unmarried. (verses 12 thru 17)

All these statements (1 thru 4) by Paul are accompanied by concessions and other words of considerateness involving two people in the most intimate relationship a man and a woman can ever have in this life.

concessions by Paul

These are some of Paul’s concessions to men and women in different states (married/unmarried) of relationships.

a) because of your lack of self control (verse 5)
b) if they don’t have self-control, let them marry (verse 9)
c) The brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases [of separation] (verse 15)
d) But if you marry, you have not sinned He does not sin. Let them marry.
e) only in the Lord (verse 39)

Paul goes to some length to explain repeatedly he would like to spare them the trials they will face in the world as husband and wife. What he conveys to his readers is not a quick, simple solution towards the reconciliation in their relationships, but also, through concessions Paul is mindful of the provision of grace and love from our heavenly Father. Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus.

Notably, Paul makes it clear that it is the Lord, not Paul, who gave command concerning married believers in verses 10 & 11.

10 But to the married I command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife not leave her husband 11 (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband not leave his wife.

It is the only one of the above mentioned list of four in which Paul does not include any kind of a concession or other words of considerateness for those affected by this command. It may appear and it fact it has been taken and taught that way by some, namely that Paul is prohibiting the marriage of man or woman in the aftermath of their divorce or abandonment by their spouse. Perhaps the most difficult part of Paul's words is to be found in this parenthetical expression: (but if she departs, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband). Yet, in the prior passages in the context of his message to men and women and marriage Paul alludes to a vital, key term* used by Jesus in his own reply to his disciples. So, since Paul himself deferred to Jesus, not I, but the Lord, it is worth our while and necessary to look at what Jesus said on the matter.

concession by Jesus

The words of Jesus on this matter are found in Matthew 19. Unlike Paul, Jesus had a live audience which could respond to the seemingly hard nature of his words. He spoke these words in response to the question put to him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” Yes, Jesus did speak some hard words (see, John 6:60ff) and which he would not impose as heavy burdens anymore than the saints are to impose burdens of our own making on others. His commandments are not burdensome. Our own notions about solving what we think is a problem in a marriage between a man are often as mistaken as were the Sadducees' notions about marriage and the resurrection. The words which Jesus spoke to the Sadducees in response to their misinformed, speculative marriage scenarios are fitting: Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the scriptures or the power of God? and you are greatly mistaken. The disciples, perhaps with a bit of exasperation, expressed the sentiment of many saints affected by divorce when they cried out to Jesus: If this is the case of the man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. [Later in the text the disciples were similarly “exceedingly astonished” concerning just who could possibly be saved given some other hard words they heard from Jesus. This was Jesus’ response to them: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”]

It is what Jesus replied to his disciples which speaks to the saints in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
It speaks as much to the husband as to the wife who was abandoned as much as the husband/wife who abandoned their spouse.

This is the concession, or the considerateness, by Jesus and to which Paul alludes in his own concessions and considerateness in that key; it is the vital term of gift.* It was used by Paul in his letter to the saints and particularly those whose marriages were affected by abandonment by their spouse. The world has been filled with supposed solutions, that is, laws and commandments and endless hypothetical scenarios involving divorce and remarriage without the actual understanding for those affected by divorce and their new lives in a new marriage. These worldly solutions which characterize the teaching of some saints represent the attempts by men to improve on what they perceive as potential loopholes in God's grace as though God were unaware. However, despite what men made of the free gift of grace in Paul's day he did not refrain from proclaiming the message of the grace of God. Paul did not conceive his own improvement on the grace of God. So too, neither should the saints in Christ cease or refrain from proclaiming these concessions and the grace that is given by God and received by men, today.

But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but
those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born
that way from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who
were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs who made
themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake. He who is
able to receive it, let him receive it.”

a gift to receive

Paul alluded to the command of Jesus and points out for us that it is, not I, but the Lord to whom we are to refer to on this matter. It is not that Paul's teaching was at odds with the teaching of Jesus as some saints are quick to suggest and have aligned themselves in their respective camps. Jesus instructed his disciples concerning the husband or wife who find themselves without their spouse because of divorce or abandonment. The solution was not, as the disciples' thought and as some argue today, that those divorced or abandoned are to refrain from marriage. The truth is they are no more to refrain from marriage than they are to be denied the union of marriage, also. Those who have experienced divorce or abandonment and CHOOSE NOT to marry are able to do so because it has been given to them. What is given to them is very much like the salvation each one has been given in Jesus. It is not earned or merited, but it is a gift from God.

1) they have RECEIVED that which enables them to refrain from marriage (if to remain unmarried is what they choose) that is, it has been given to them. It is a gift given for them to receive and to remain unmarried, 


2)  the individual has NOT RECEIVED that gift which can enables him/her to live unmarried and without a spouse. Hence, he/she is free to marry and take a spouse. All unmarried people are no more the same than all eunuchs are the same as Jesus illustrated for the disciples.

Unlike eunuchs who are a) born as eunuchs, b) are made eunuchs by men, or c) make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom Jesus speaks of those who RECEIVE a GIFT, This gift is not something that they can earn or something that they make for themselves. It is GIVEN to them by none other than the Father from whom proceed all gifts. (James 1:17, see also Matthew 19:26, about those things which are impossible with men, but which are possible with God)

It is a GIFT which enables them to either MARRY or NOT TO MARRY.

The test as to whether or not one has received and is to accept the gift which has been given is for no one to say other than the person (He, let him) who is affected by his or her decision to MARRY or to NOT MARRY.

This form of argument, whether one chooses to remain unmarried or one chooses to marry, is used various times in different aspects in the life of believers in Christ. The decision one way or the other no more condemns or commends them towards God than whether they are Jew or Gentile, male or female, circumcised or uncircumcised. A Jew who was divorced was no less a child of Abraham than those who are of the faith of Abraham in Jesus are any less children of the kingdom.

a call to leave everyone and everything behind

Lastly, there is the call which everyone of us heard and to which we responded when we committed our lives to follow Jesus. We were exhorted to count the cost of following Jesus. That cost was measured against our greater love for Jesus above that of our love for father, mother, wife . . . including our own life. That was the moment when, as Paul put it, we counted all things lost in order that we might gain Christ.

It was the moment we, as Jesus stated, lost our life in order that we might find our life in Him. That was the moment we lost our father, mother, wife, possessions and our very life. The fact that that loss was a virtual loss does not diminish the reality of the loss. Hence, when the actual loss of one of these loved ones, whether a spouse or a child, does occur we are not easily distracted from following Jesus. The prospect of reconciliation between a husband and wife as brother and sister in Christ after the passage of time may be as much a difficult conflict between the desire for reconciliation as the reluctant acceptance of the reality of that reconciliation. Nonetheless, we know of more than a few instances of the marvel and work of the Spirit in the lives of saints who did walk through that struggle and back towards each other because of their common love in and for the Lord.

When the disciples expressed their consternation at what they heard from Jesus and all that they had given up to follow after he him encouraged them with these words.

28 Jesus said to them, “Most certainly I tell you that you who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on the throne of his glory, you also will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29  Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life. 30  But many will be last who are first; and first who are last.


The apostle Paul delivered specific instructions, commands and concessions to men and women and husbands and wife in various states of relationships. The only one relationship to which he does not deliver a concession is the only one which he directly associates with the teaching of Jesus.

When Jesus delivered his own words in Matthew 19 in response to questions concerning divorce and marriage it prompted his disciples to ask their own question. They may have been a bit exasperated by what they heard from him. His words seemed to them to be beyond the capability of any man. The solution, they thought, was to simply not marry. This is the solution often given by men today to those affected by divorce, but this is not what Jesus replied.

It was then that Jesus explained that whether a divorced man chose to marry or to remain unmarried was a matter of whether or not the gift was given to him to receive or whether he had received it. He who chose not to marry and remain unmarried was because he had received the gift to do so. He who chose to marry because he could not remain unmarried could do so because he had not received the gift to to remain unmarried. Jesus still acknowledged that the giving of that gift was for the individual either to accept it or not not to accept it. Where does such a gift come from if not from God?

It may upset some to think about how a gift could possibly work two different ways seemlingly opposed to the glory of God and be a blessing for those who receive it as much as those who do not receive it. Yet, both Jesus' and Paul's teachings resonate with this reality of concessions in the relationship between a man and a woman as husband and wife.

There was the disciple who was casting out demons, but who did not follow after Jesus and the disciples and yet Jesus declared that disciple was for the disciples and Jesus. (Luke 9:49) Similarly, Paul could rejoice that despite the motives of some saints and which were different than Paul's motives he was thankful that Christ was being preached. (Philippians 1) These are just two examples which are not unlike the matter of a man/husband and woman/wife. These examples represent a capability, or gift, which was seemingly different and at odds with Jesus and Paul, but which had the net result of bringing glory to God.

Do not impose burdens on the saints who are of the faith that is in Christ Jesus which neither Jesus nor Paul ever imposed. If Peter was neither ostracized nor marginalized because he denied Jesus by what standard are the saints in Christ marginalized and excluded from contributing to the ministry and the edification of the saints because of their marriage or divorce experience? Where is the instruction, command and concession by which those saints are being built up, and like Peter, restored to the fulness of glory of God? Yes. There are some who actually state: Well, Peter just denied Jesus. He didn't kill anyone and was certainly not divorced as if though Peter's' denial of Jesus were a small, insignificant matter. Let us not create and impose man-made standards to prevent or safeguard an abuse of the grace of God.

28  “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. 30  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Peace to all.

No comments:

Post a Comment