But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17, NKJV).
In a context discussing privileges and prohibitions of marriage, Paul reviews a foundational principle that he appointed as an apostle of Christ in all the churches. Three times in this paragraph (1 Cor. 7:17-24), the apostle teaches Christians to “remain in the same calling” in which God had called them (into fellowship with His Son, Jesus, 1 Cor. 7:17, 20, 24; 1:9). Some brethren have wildly abused this passage by advising people they may remain in unholy marriages after becoming Christians. Such counsel is a gross violation of this context and the broader will of God toward repentance of sin. This passage describes remaining faithful to Christ (“keeping the commandments of God,” v. 19) in non-sinful conditions and relationships (circumcised or uncircumcised, vv. 18-19; bond or free, vv. 21-22). It does not sanction continuing in sinful conditions and relationships such as unlawful remarriages (Matt. 19:9-12; Mark 6:17-18). (May the polygamist remain in adultery upon becoming a Christian? Of course not, Rom. 7:2-3; Heb. 13:4.) Yet, in an attempt at consistency, those who distort today’s passage to approve sinful remarriages have even said God allows Christians to remain in polygamy after conversion. This shameful error gives sinners confidence to stay in sin instead of repenting and ending every sinful action and relation (Rom. 6:1-2; Acts 17:30; 18:8; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). We must “remain with God” in our marriages instead of enslaving ourselves to the sinful will and errors of men (1 Cor. 7:23-24; Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9). This means an unlawful marriage must end because one is not remaining with God while remaining in it (Ezra 10:1-4, 10-11).
16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” 17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. 18 Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:16–18, NKJV).
Herod thought John had risen from the dead when he heard about the healing powers of Jesus. John was a fearless preacher of righteousness who lost his head, literally. Would your preacher do what John did? (1) John lost his head because he dared to condemn adultery (Mark 6:18). Because of his rebuke, Herodias was enraged and wanted to kill him (Mark 6:19-20). Today, many preachers approve or accommodate adulterous marriages with preaching that sanctions divorce for any reason and remarriage with impunity (Matt. 5:32; 19:3-6, 9). Like John, we must condemn adultery (including sinful remarriages), not comfort those practicing it (Heb. 13:4). (2) John lost his head because of a rash vow (Mark 6:21-26). Herod swore up to half of his kingdom to Herodias’s daughter, driven by fleshly pleasure when he saw her dance. John’s head was on the line. Herod was sorry, but he was too proud to recant. Tongue control still begins with heart control (Matt. 12:35-37). (3) John lost his head because of a dancing daughter (Mark 6:22). Please note, Herod did not dance, but he watched it. Modern dances still incite lustful thoughts leading to lewd conduct (Gal. 5:19; Rom. 13:13). If you don’t go into a burning house to watch the flames, then don’t go to the dance floor (or turn on the TV) just to watch it (Job 31:1-4). How many preachers today would lose their heads in Herod’s court?
31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery (Matthew 5:31–32, NKJV).”
God created, arranged, and sanctified marriage for man and woman (Gen. 2:21-25). Over time, people failed to honor marriage by introducing all kinds of corruption that defiled this holy union, including polygamy (Gen. 4:19), homosexuality (Gen. 19:5), adultery (2 Sam. 11:2-4), and divorce (Mal. 2:13-16). God restrained man’s cheapened disregard for marriage through the Law of Moses, placing restrictions on plural wives, divorce, and remarriage (Exod. 21:10; Deut. 21:15-17; 24:1-4). Yet, in the days of Christ, marriage continued to be minimized as a relationship easily discarded and replaced with a legal document (Matt. 5:31; 19:7-8). Jesus applied His authority over marriage, affirming its sanctity and exclusivity. The person who divorces his (or her) spouse for “any reason except sexual immorality (fornication) bears responsibility for the sin of separating what God joined, and the future sin remarriage produces (Matt. 5:32; 19:6). Only the reason of sexual immorality (fornication) suffices to put away a spouse without causing her to commit adultery through remarriage (Matt. 5:32). And, the person who marries one who has been divorced (put away) also commits adultery (Matt. 19:9). Jesus calls on everyone to honor marriage as God gave it instead of dishonoring it and losing our souls (Heb. 13:4).
The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason” (Matthew 19:3, NKJV)?
Ending marriages for all sorts of reasons is commonplace in America and around the world. The deterioration of marriage does untold damage to families and souls. How Jesus answered the Pharisees’ insincere question settles God’s view of divorce. (1) “Have you not read” (Matt. 19:4). God’s word answers the question of divorce for all who believe. (2) God rules over marriage (Matt. 19:4-5). It is His gift to humanity, and we must obey His will in it. (3) Marriage is between a male (man) and a female (woman) (Matt. 19:4, 5). Same-sex “marriage” is a corruption of marriage and not God’s will. (4) God joins together the man and his wife (Matt. 19:5-6). God approves and joins one man and one woman in marriage (Rom. 7:2-3). (5) People are not to separate what God joins together (Matt. 19:6). Ending a marriage without God’s approval is sin (1 Cor. 7:10). (6) Jesus said God allows one reason for ending a marriage, fornication (Matt. 19:9). Divorce for “any reason” (Matt. 19:3) violates God’s will and is evidence of a hard heart toward God and marriage (Matt. 19:7-8). Christ permits putting away a spouse for the cause of fornication. By doing so, the one innocent of fornication has God’s consent to marry another. All other remarriages produce adultery, and those in them are not “joined together” by God (Matt. 19:9, 6). God’s way is not man’s way (Isa. 55:8-9). But all who want God’s blessing will abide in His will concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage (Matt. 19:10-12).
13 And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. 14 Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (Malachi 2:13–14, NKJV)
Marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, and the one God who sanctions it (Gen. 2:24; Mal. 2:14; Matt. 19:6; Rom. 7:2). Men and women have corrupted God-designed, God-approved marriage in many ways, from multiple spouses, to adulterous remarriages, to same-sex agreements (Gen.4:19; Mk. 6:17-18; Rom. 1:24-28). The men of Israel dishonored their wives by divorcing and taking other wives (Mal. 2:16). By this, they dishonored God, who blessed their marriages. Honor for marriage includes respecting and maintaining its moral purity and exclusivity (Heb. 13:4). It includes following the position God set marriage in the parent-child structure. God’s arrangement is leaving parents – forming a “one-flesh” marriage (covenant approval by God) – then bearing children (Gen. 2:24-25; 4:1). Following God’s righteous order exalts a nation, “but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39, NKJV)
The divinely mandated permanency of marriage is reiterated here. The word “bound” signifies to be obligated to – it describes a tie with obligations. While “friends with benefits” popularizes fornication and diminishes marriage, “marriage with obligations” is God’s directive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27). Marriage is not “until we fall out of love” – it is “until death we do part.” This is why marrying another person while one’s original spouse is alive is adultery (Romans 7:2-3). Marriage cannot be ended on a whim, or on differences we deem to be “irreconcilable.” Only fornication gives the other party in marriage the freedom to put away the offender and marry another (Matthew 19:9). According to Jesus, all other remarriages constitute adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). Death of the spouse to whom God joined you ends marriage’s obligation, freeing one to marry again in harmony with God’s will. We must return to honoring the serious, lifelong obligation one accepts when entering marriage. Otherwise, people will continue dishonoring marriage by putting asunder what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6). Be assured, this sin does not escape the attention of the One to whom we will give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 13:4).
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:17–20, NKJV)
What Paul taught about marriage in verses 10-14 applies a foundational and universal principle he now explains in verses 17-22 (24). (That the believer is not being under bondage to the unbeliever in verse 15 applies another foundational principle, verse 23.) Non-sinful relations and conditions of life do not affect one’s salvation in Christ. Therefore, it is right and good to “remain in the same calling” in which you were called (v. 18-20). Circumcision illustrates this, which is inconsequential concerning salvation. What matters is keeping God’s commands, and circumcision is not commanded for salvation. Similarly, marriage is not commanded for salvation, but it is allowed. We conclude with certainty that Paul is not giving permission to remain in a sinful relationship when one becomes a Christian, including sinful marriages (Rom. 6:1-2; Matt. 19:9). Every sinful action and sinful relationship must be repented of and abandoned when one becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:1-5).
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13, NKJV)
More than a few times we have heard this passage misused to endorse accepting people in error and the immorality it produces. Such brethren defy the existence of absolute truth while tacitly accepting the moral relativism it produces. Since good and sincere brethren disagree on certain doctrinal issues (which they define as gray areas), they conclude each one will have to just “work out their own salvation” on the matter. This view is applied to divorce and remarriage. One of the problems with using Philippians 2:12 this way is it results in accepting adulterers as if they are faithful Christians. No longer is the sinner rebuked and called to repentance. Now he or she is tolerated and allowed to “work out their own salvation.” People “commit adultery” when they divorce and remarry in violation of Matthew 19:9. How do you “work out your own salvation” as an adulterer? God only forgives the adulterer when the sinner repents, prays and ending the adulterous remarriage. “Work out your own salvation” means to keep on obeying God (read verse 12 again). You bring your salvation to its full accomplishment by obeying God, not by remaining in disobedience.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. (Matthew 4:23, NKJV)
It is quite disheartening to hear gospel preachers teach that Jesus was teaching the Law of Moses to the Jews while He was on the earth. They say this, it seems, to prop up their own false teaching about marriage, divorce and remarriage. They say we cannot use Matthew 5 and 19 to know about divorce and remarriage today, because He was teaching Jews how to be good Jews under the Law. But, Jesus was preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” – no plainer, simpler words could describe the content of Christ’s teaching. His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) was the gospel of the kingdom, not a rehearsal of how to keep the Law of Moses. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets (which He did, Matt. 5:17-18; Lk. 24:44-47; Rom. 10:4), not to preach it. The miracles of Jesus did not confirm the validity of the Law of Moses, they confirmed the validity of the gospel Jesus preached. They showed Him to the be Son of God, not the defender of Moses (John 20:30-31). We may – and must – go to what Jesus taught while He was on earth, as well as what His apostles taught after He ascended, to learn His will on “all things that pertain to life and godliness” – including the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her… 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. (1 Corinthians 7:12, 15, NKJV)
Some Christians question whether they must end their marriage to an unbeliever, in order to be faithful to Jesus. The apostle applies Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 19:6 – “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder” – and answers, “No.” Is the unbeliever is willing to allow the Christian to live his or her faith, do so and bring a godly influence into the home (1 Cor. 7:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). If that willingness is not present, and the unbeliever sunders the marriage (being unwilling to have his or her spouse to live for Christ, v. 16), the Christian is “not under bondage in such cases.” That is, the Christian is not now, and never has been a slave to the unbeliever (see 1 Cor. 7:23). This verse does not teach another cause for divorce and remarriage, that is, desertion. (Marriage is for life, with one cause for one party to be free to remarry, the cause of fornication, Matt. 19:3-6, 9.) Instead, it teaches the believer that his or her faith is not negotiable – even in a marriage. Do not surrender your faith for the sake of pleasing any person; “you were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). God has called you to be at peace with Him (v. 15). So, do the will of God, not the will of men.