Question:

He was married and his wife was going to leave him for a man who just got out of prison. He begged her to not leave. He figured they had sex but was not certain. She reluctantly came back to him. Several years later, his drinking and mental abuse plus he cheated caused her to divorce him. They were not Christians.

He met a single woman and they started dating and having sex. She got pregnant, so they married. Neither one knew anything about any church or Bible rules. About a year later they were taught the gospel and they were both baptized. They have now been married over 50 years and recently someone brought up the fact that they were in a sinful marriage and should divorce, he should return to his wife or stay unmarried. His ex remarried a divorced man and has a family.

Having been married Christians over 50 years of thinking they were washed of their sins is being argued about. They are age 75 and age 70 now and not in very good health. They are being told to divorce, live in separate homes. They are on fixed incomes, and there is no one who either of them could move in with. Paying for two homes would be impossible. They are being told two different things, and they are so confused. They have not had sexual relations for over ten years due to his prostate cancer, and there is no temptation in this area. Some tell them to not live in the same house, some say to stay in the same house but not sleep together or walk around half-naked. They are getting so many sides their heads are spinning not knowing what God wants so they can be saved. I can see them failing because of this worry and anguish. A divorce will drive the man out of the church and instead of the divorce saving his soul, it will be lost anyway.

Some have told them divorce or be lost, some have said they are OK because grace will cover them in the next life. Here are some of the other advice they have been given.

They claim, ‘if it was wrong to practice such things before baptism, then it is wrong AFTER baptism.’ Therefore, they are in a sinful marriage and must get out or be lost.

Did Jesus, the apostles, or anyone else in the New Testament, ever taught a gospel requiring someone to quit a marriage or walk away from a family? Some mention that not once do we ever find a command for a baptized individual to quit their marriage or walk away from a family and leave them destitute. Nor do we have an example in Scripture. We only find people suggesting that a necessary inference should be applied. As common as this was in the Roman world (and Jewish too) and as important as this is, since virtually every marriage might very well be subject to this, not once do we find a command or example given such as was given above in the discussion group.

Further, we find in the qualifications for an elder that he “must be the husband of one wife” (I Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6). Why would Paul write this only for those who would be elders? Yet, nowhere else does Paul specifically address the issue of ‘men with more than one wife’ either by polygamy or MDR and require them to separate.

Another point to consider is Paul’s discourse in I Corinthians 7 about the principles of marriage. Why does Paul break from talking about marriage and in verse 17 say, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him."

This elderly couple just wants to get to heaven and have lived the best lives they could all these years. Now they find out that they will be judged as sinners and cannot inherit eternal life because they are adulterers. What say you?

Answer:

The difficulty in such situations comes from the emotional baggage loaded into the scenario presented. In fact, there is so much there that it is easy to overlook the conflicting claims. Therefore, let's start by stripping out the non-essentials.

The man was divorced because he committed adultery. The fact that his wife had committed adultery first doesn't enter into consideration because that sin was resolved by her returning to him. Jesus stated, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18). He remains in adultery until his first wife dies. "For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man" (Romans 7:2-3).

Sex is a duty within marriage (I Corinthians 7:2-3), but sex is not what creates a marriage. Marriage is created by a covenant (Malachi 2:14). The problem is the man was not released from his original covenant because of his sin. The fact that he can no longer have sex doesn't change the fact that he is in a second marriage covenant that conflicts with his original covenant.

What becomes odd is that this couple has been Christians for 49 years and never read the gospels. I also noted that while it is stated that they just want to reach heaven, it was noted that if the man had to end his unlawful marriage that he would quit being a Christian. You can't have it both ways. "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). Thus, in answer to the question: yes, there are times when a person must put God before his marriage or his family.

I would hope that God has mercy on this couple, but that is not for me or anyone else to decide. It is not the sinner who can demand mercy, as God told Moses. "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations" (Exodus 34:6-7). Only the Judge can extend mercy. We are not the judges. We are limited to teaching what the King has commanded.

I have known of people who ended their illegitimate marriages in order to serve the Lord. They continued to support their ex-spouse and children because it was the right thing to do. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Timothy 5:8). Thus, the claim that ending a marriage will leave everyone destitute is not true. But continuing a sin while claiming it is for the good is a lie. "And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), "Let us do evil that good may come"? Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:8).

Using the qualification of elders and deacons to claim that this rule applied to no one else is false. See: If a country permits polygamy, is there a biblical reason not to have multiple wives?

"Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called" (I Corinthians 7:14-21).

Notice that "what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." God is not saying that someone involved in sin when they become a Christian is to continue in that sin.

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