When to Let Your Marriage Partner Go

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been writing on marriage and divorce.  What is often used as a reason for divorce (adultery), is a misunderstanding (in my humble opinion) of what Jesus was referring to in the gospel accounts.  You can and should read that article here, which leads into the second article as to why one should stay married.  You can read that one here. Please take into account that all these articles build on one another and should be read in order. So I would ask you to take the time to do so. In those previous articles I make it clear that divorce is virtually never an option.

But am I saying there is no way out of marriage?  There is one way.  Paul gives it to us in 1 Corinthians 7.

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor 7.10-16, ESV)

Some would say that Paul is only speaking here, and is not being led by the Spirit, but rather giving his personal thoughts.  That isn’t what he meant by saying “I, not the Lord.”  In verse 10 he wrote the opposite.  Jesus actually said that no one is to separate what God has joined together, which is what Paul was saying in verse 10.  However, Paul is not quoting or paraphrasing Jesus in verse 12.  Instead, He is giving understanding to situations that now occur but didn’t at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In other words, Jesus didn’t address the issue directly as Paul is now.  Everyone during Jesus’ earthly ministry, with whom he discussed the matters of marriage and divorce, were Jews.  There were not believers (as we have them now) and unbelievers.  There were just Jews.  So for Jesus to have said anything about believers and unbelievers being married the way we think of them now would not make sense.  By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians we see that households were divided between pagans and Christians, between Jews and Christians.  So Paul was addressing an issue that had not yet arisen during Christ’s ministry.  It is just as authoritative as Jesus’ no divorce statement.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians who were to be believers, telling them that two believers must never divorce.  They should not separate themselves.  However, he gave a clause that this may happen.  How do you handle it if it does?  If separation happens, and by separation we do not mean divorce, then they should be seeking to reconcile with one another.  If for some odd reason they cannot reconcile, they are still not to get divorced, but are to live as celibate  and chaste singles.

So if there is abuse in the marriage the abused needs to get out of that situation and let the abuser know (perhaps through a mediator) that they must get help and counseling before they can be reconciled. The hope is reconciliation–always. Meanwhile both husband and wife are to live celibate and chaste lives. They are not free to date or sleep with other people. If they do, they are then committing adultery and are in sin themselves.

But what if one believer is married to an unbeliever, which is often the case?  The believer is to remain married to the unbeliever as long as the unbeliever is happy to be married to him or her.  Why?  Because the believer will have more influence in the house than if he or she is out of the house.  So the believer must not simply look for his or her own happiness as is the argument today, but rather to seek the eternal joy of the spouse and children by presenting the gospel as often as possible.  Now Peter wrote that there comes a time when speaking isn’t the way to go, but living a holy life and treating the spouse with love and respect will speak louder than words.  Discernment and discretion is needed when married to an unbeliever.

It could be that the unbeliever gets tired of the believer and seeks a divorce him or herself.  If that is the case, the believer is to desist from keeping the marriage alive.  The believer cannot seek the divorce, but neither is he or she supposed to keep the unbeliever from seeking divorce.  Thus there is a reason to desist from working on the marriage: the unbeliever wants to leave.  “God is calling you to peace,” (1 Cor 7.15, ESV).

The question is: what if the unbeliever claims to be a believer?  Such is the need for church membership.  Remember the church is the embassy where believers are given testimony from the body as to their salvation.  The congregation, when allowing people to become members of a local assembly, are saying, “Yes, we testify that this person is a brother or sister in Christ.”  When a brother or sister sins, the others within the church who know of it are to confront them in a loving way to win them back through repentance.  If they do not repent, the number of believers increases, with the hopes of repentance and reconciliation.  If they still will not repent, then ultimately the entire local body, the embassy that has testified to their salvation, convenes to assess the situation and to seek the person’s repentance once again.  If they refuse, the church then is to reassess their testimony.  “Before, we believed that such and such was a believer, but upon seeing a refusal to repent of such egregious sins, we now believe he is an unbeliever.”  At that point, there is no support from God’s chosen people as to the brother or sister’s salvation.  If they so choose to leave, you are free to let them go.  God is giving you peace.  Without the help of a church, there is no support for such a decision.

I know that this is an extremely unpopular point of view.  It may be a knew point of view for some people in here.  You’ve never heard of this interpretation.  I would not write it if I did not think that this is accurate to the text.  This view places marriage much higher on the pedestal than where most people would have it.

That doesn’t make divorce the unpardonable sin.  Jesus died to forgive us of all our sins.  A lot of divorced people would ask if they should get married to their exspouse.  If you are remarried, then no.  Deuteronomy 24 makes it clear that you are not to go back to your ex.  If you have not remarried and your spouse is a believer, then reconciliation is the way to go, so the principle of 1 Corinthians 7 goes.  If they are not a believer and you broke it off, I would turn to 2 Corinthians 6.14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” (ESV).  To seek reconciliation would to purposefully put yourself in an unequally yoked situation.  If they have since the divorce become a believer and you have not remarried, then seek reconciliation.

All that being said, this comes down to a heart issue, as it always does.  On the surface, the Pharisees did what they were supposed to do by means of a writ of divorce.  But deeper their hearts were against their wives.  Because of that, they were really against God’s created order: one man with one woman for life.  That is our hearts’ desire.  If the heartbreaking reality of divorce has hit your life, do not think yourself unlovable, untouchable, or unusable.  We are all made new in Christ.  He still loves you.  The church will still love you.

There may be others here that are hearing this and looking at your own view of your own marriage and realizing how low you see marriage.  Your eyes are open to its greatness and its importance.  If that is you then pray for your marriage; pray for a revival in your own home.

There may be others who are not yet married and have heard the words of finality in marriage.  It may scare you, but don’t let it.  Marriage is good, but it is hard work.  Much of the work is done before marriage begins.  Be careful about whom you marry.  Don’t allow a momentary infatuation turn into a lifetime of pain.  Before you marry, seek council from those who are older and wiser than you.  If they give you pause over your engagement, then that is a sure sign that you should give pause as well.  Do not let pride tell you that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

3 thoughts on “When to Let Your Marriage Partner Go”

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