Question:

If a non-Christian divorces his wife for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness, then remarries, then joins the Church, should his second marriage be broken up?

I ask the question because I'm considering doing an internship with a church that dis-fellowshipped another church presumably because they would not break up the second marriages. It is my opinion that adultery isn't something perpetual, that the person in the wrongful marriage isn't in perpetual sin. I know that the marriage was wrongful and, therefore, would say that they should confess their sin in the matter. However, they have also made a new covenant with the second marriage and breaking this would break the second covenant. It is my opinion that they should repent and confess that they sinned by getting married, but then make the most of their second marriage.


Answer:

"For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man" (Romans 7:2-3).

Notice that a woman who marries again, with no right to do so, is called an adulteress as long as her first husband remains alive. Adultery is not a one time act of breaking the marriage covenant. Adultery is having sex with someone while under the terms of a covenant with another person. Therefore, you came to the wrong conclusion. Adultery can be an on-going sin, just like any other sin that is not repented of.

It is curious that you say that the couple in an adulterous marriage should repent of their sin. Repentance means to change, yet you are saying you think they can continue their sinful behavior and at the same time repent; that is a contradiction. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). Do you tell fornicators that they can continue to have sex without being married, so long as they "repent and confess that they sinned?" The very thought is contrary to what Christianity is about. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).

Covenants are not easily broken. They typically last for the life of the parties involved and sometimes beyond. I've been doing a series on covenants here and I would like you to take a look at "The Importance of Covenants" and "The Importance of Covenants - Part II." If the Lord wills, I hope to do a third part specifically on marriage covenants in a few weeks. Making another covenant with another person does not nullify the first covenant. "Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it" (Galatians 3:15). That first covenant must be ended and it can only be ended by the rules set in place by God. The oaths were made before God and man cannot make up his own reasons for terminating a covenant. "And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate"" (Matthew 19:4-6).

Even when a man or woman leaves their marriage partner, they remain bound by the covenant they made. "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). Because that covenant is in place, they cannot lawfully enter into another covenant. You basically claim that only the last covenant is binding, but by doing so you are stating that no marriage covenant is binding because another covenant can always be made -- supposedly nullifying the prior covenant. The truth is that there really isn't a second marriage. A second marriage can't be entered into while the first marriage covenant is in place.

Looking at Matthew 19:6, where it says, "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Would this imply that man can indeed separate it, though wrongfully?

Yes. People wrongfully separate, but such a separation does not mean that God has released them from their covenant. That is why we also read: "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife" (I Corinthians 7:10-11). You cannot fix wrongs with additional wrongs.

Well, I don't mean to say that the second marriage was OK, only that the covenant is null. I don't see it as fixing by additional wrong doings, but neither do I see the I Corinthians 7 passage as indicating that God still holds this covenant. He simply says not to remarry.

You missed the point of both Galatians 3:15 and Matthew 19:4-6. Men cannot nullify a covenant with their own terms. Trying to make a second covenant does not nullify the first. God is the only one who can say when someone is released from a covenant. The reason God said not to remarry is because they are still under a covenant. Being released from the covenant, such as by the death of a spouse, allows remarriage (Romans 7:2-3). But notice that you are arguing against Jesus. You are saying that people can remarry, so long as they apologize after the fact.

Certainly if a couple who were trying to get married were in the situation which we have been discussing, I would have nothing to do with it, and I would say that it is sinful. What I am still considering is what about after they went ahead and got married (by the state). Would I continue in telling them that they must divorce? What if they had children by this "marriage?"

I'm going to seek the opposing opinion to you, and I will likely come back to you with what they say, to see your response. I'm really grateful for your help and your patience.

Think about how you would respond to others who are in sin. Let's change this for a moment to a couple living together without being married. They want to be a part of a church, but they refuse to get married. Do you insist that they must change their situation so that they are no longer sinning? What if children are involved? Does God make exceptions to sinners while children are involved?

Let's take it a step closer. There is a married man who has a mistress on the side. They have children as a result of their sexual encounters. Do you insist that the man stop seeing this woman?

The problem remains that a second marriage where the first marriage covenant is still in effect, remains wrong. It cannot be made right. "And why not say, "Let us do evil that good may come"? --as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8). The people in this wrongful marriage are committing adultery. Paul makes it clear in Romans 7:2-3 that it is an ongoing sin. Adultery doesn't become right just because someone apologizes for being an adulterer.

Ignoring God's laws and attempting to enter a second covenant doesn't nullify the original covenant. That is exactly Jesus' point when he was asked if a couple can divorce for any reason. The answer was "no" because God sets the rules. The marriage covenant is a lifetime commitment.

Many people make a mess of their lives through their sins. A murder can't bring his victims back to life. A drug addict can't unfry his brain. The only way out of a mess is to stop making a mess. It is hard. Why do you think the disciples were shocked to learn that only a divorce because the spouse was sexually unfaithful allowed only the innocent party to remarry?

"His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it"" (Matthew 19:10-12).

How badly does a person want heaven? Is he willing to forgo sex because he ruined his marriage in order to live pleasing to God? Sadly, a lot of people refuse. They would rather continue in sin, knowing it was sinful, because they get pleasure from it than to live as God requires.