Divorce and Remarriage

The church at Corinth was confused over issues pertaining to divorce and remarriage and asked Paul a number of questions. Due to the prevalence of divorce in our culture this sermon is based upon Paul’s answers to the Corinthians as well as answering many of the questions asked about divorce.


    • Pastor Mark Driscoll
    • 1 Corinthians 7:10-24, 39-40
    • May 14, 2006

Father God, I do pray for our time together. I thank you, Lord God, for my mom on this Mother’s Day, that she loves you, and that she loves me, and that she attends this church, and that we get to worship you together. God, I thank you for my wife, that she’s a tremendous mother to my five children, and God, I thank you for the blessing she is to me and to them. And God, I pray for the institution of marriage among Christians. I pray for the covenant between husbands and wives, knowing that that is the environment in which children are birthed and raised. And so God, as we deal today with the issues of divorce and remarriage, we ask for wisdom.

We ask for kindness and grace. We ask for the truth. And God, we ask that we would honor the teachings of Scripture. For that to happen, we invite your Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, and we ask that Jesus Christ would be our comfort and hope as we study Scripture together today. Amen.

Well, as we get into the issue of divorce and remarriage, I’ll start by saying this: that 9 out of 10 Americans will marry. Roughly half of those marriages will end in divorce. Those who then remarry will experience a 2/3 divorce rate. What does that tell us? It tells us that we marry; we think, “Oh, I’ve married the wrong person.” So we get out of that marriage, and we go find another person, and we realize that they’re the wrong person, too – which should indicate to us that maybe there’s something wrong with us. That if I keep going through all the wrong people, maybe I’m the wrong person. And if the only variable between multiple broken marriages is you, maybe you’re the problem, and that’s what the evidence would suggest to us.

And no-fault divorce came into existence in this country about the same time that I came into existence. And at that time, what happened was the declaration was made that divorce was good for kids, because if parents don’t get along so well, or if they don’t love each other, they’re not happy, then the child will be in a sad state of affairs. So divorce is good for Mom, good for Dad, good for the kids. Now, what has happened is statistically there have been studies done tracing a whole generation – of which many of you are a part – seeing the common effects of divorce on the children. One of the great books written on this in the modern era is called The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce.

It’s a non-Christian book, but they studied 131 families looking at the effects on the children who came out of divorced homes over the course of their life. What they discovered was very early on there are very obvious implications for a child from a divorced home, one immediately being emotional. Now all of a sudden Mom and Dad are no longer living together. They have a contentious relationship to varying degrees. Mom and Dad are separated. Now there are parenting agreements and custody disputes, and you’ve got two homes and two families, and then remarriage and blended families, and perhaps step-siblings.

And sometimes the child is used as the pawn in the war between the mother and the father. All kinds of difficulty ensue. Usually the child ends up with the mother, so there is emotional in addition to financial implications. Mom is making less money. She has high costs to provide for the care of the child or children. Income level goes down. Daycare comes into being, and maybe Grandma is called to help look after the kid. The whole social environment changes; the whole family becomes unstable. Financial difficulty ensues. And there are many complicating variables for a child who comes from a divorced home.

Additionally, it doesn’t just stop there. As they grow, what they have found statistically is that some of the worst complications occur when you are older. When you are in your 20s and 30s, if your parents were divorced, then as you work toward that age of being married yourself it tends to cause fear. Should I marry? Can I trust this person? Will we last? Is marriage a good thing? Dare I give my heart to another, lest it be broken? And some of you struggle with that pain of longing to be married, looking forward to being married, but having great concerns and frustrations because you came from a divorced home. And this is a very real issue, and I don’t mean to be cruel, but let’s just be honest and say that divorce has a lingering effect for the rest of everyone’s life who is involved.

And each of us is touched by divorce. Some of us are divorced. Some of us, our parents are divorced. Grandparents are divorced, friends, family, people that we love are divorced, and we’re implicated in it. And the great myth of divorce – I was talking to a non-Christian who was in a divorce a while ago, and he said something that was very profound. He said, “My wife divorced me, and she said, ‘Well, I just want it to be over.’” And he said, “It’s never going to be over. We still have kids, so we’re not done with each other’s lives. Those kids are gonna grow up, and then they’re gonna get married, and then we’re gonna be at the wedding together. And we’re gonna have to see each other on holidays, and our grandkids are gonna be here eventually.”

And he said, “For the rest of our life, the myth is that by getting divorced, it’s over. It’s not over. It’s just really complicated.” He said this as he was weeping – a non-Christian friend of mine. I said, “I agree with you. Divorce doesn’t end anything. You still have life together. You still have the effects of your past life together. And you still have children and inevitably grandchildren together. It’s not like it’s done. It’s just complicated, were his words. And what was happening in the church in Corinth is that people had become Christians, and they were sick of each other, and they wanted to get divorced, because all human beings, at some point, who are married want to get divorced.

I know some of you are single. You’re naively optimistic. And you think, “No, no, no! If I love Jesus, and my spouse loves Jesus, then it’ll be great!” No, it won’t. At some point, you are gonna want to get a divorce.I assure you – I assure you – I tell the truth – I assure you that when two sinners marry, sinners cause conflict and grief and harm, and two sinners invariably get sick of each other. And that’s the truth. And so the question then becomes what about marriage? What about divorce? What about Christians with marriage and divorce? What can we and can we not see as being Biblically acceptable in the eyes of God?

So I will try and answer as many of your questions as I can. We will deal with 1 Corinthians 7. We will answer the questions that they had in addition to many of the questions that you may have.  

So the first question is what do we know about marriage? We’ll deal with marriage. First, God made marriage for one man and one woman, okay? That’s what God says in Genesis 2. It’s not good for the man to be alone, so God makes the woman. God brings them together. God initiates their relationship. God officiates the first wedding ceremony. And the man and the woman marry. That’s the way marriage is intended to be. God made for one man, one woman, one lifetime – that is the way it is to be.

Secondly, God made marriage with the intention that it would be unbroken, and that it would be marked by oneness. That’s why it says in Genesis 2 that the husband and the wife became one flesh; one flesh. Echad is the word in the Hebrew text – that the man and the woman became one. That same word, curiously enough, is used in Deuteronomy 6:4; the Jews call it the Shema. It says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, he is one.” He is echad. So in the same way that God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, are mysteriously one God – that’s the Trinity – so the husband and the wife mysteriously – Paul says in Ephesians 5 it’s a mystery – they are mysteriously one flesh. One person; one person, okay?

And then what this means is that you’re supposed to remain together, not go back to two. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 19, “What God has brought together we should not separate.” And this oneness means that emotionally and physically and mentally and financially and spiritually you’re one – you’re one person. So no longer are you two people. That’s why a woman takes her husband’s last name – they’re one. That’s why they live in one house. That’s why they have one bank account. That’s why they worship one God. That’s why they have one set of values. That’s why they have one set of goals. They are one. They’re one.

And in that way, the husband and the wife are showing the children a little bit of what the Trinity is like. I explain it this way to my kids when I’m talking to them. My 6-year-old son Zach is highly theological. Last night we had brownies and ice cream. I said, “How good is it?” He said, “It’s almost as good as the glory of God.” That’s what my 6-year-old son said. He really likes brownies and ice cream. And so he came to me a while back, 6 years of age, he says, “Dad, I don’t understand the Trinity.” I was like, “You’re not alone, 6-year-old buddy. There are others of us that are still perplexed by this mystery.”

He said, “How can God be three in one?” I used this example; I said, “It’s like Mom and Dad.” I said, “Mom and Dad are one. We’re one, right, buddy?” He said, “Oh, yeah, I get it. You and Mom are one.” So for my kids, their understanding of the Trinity is kind of like Mom and Dad are one – we’re together, we’re one – so God is one. And that oneness is not to be broken. So God made marriage for a man and a woman to be one, and he intends for it to be unbroken. Additionally, marriage is a covenant. Proverbs 2 and also Malachi 2 refer to marriage as a covenant. Let me distinguish this for you from a contract. One of the big problems with marriage in our nation is it’s seen as a contract.

That’s why it even comes with prenuptial agreements, which are amendments to the contract. A contract is, “I agree to provide this. You agree to provide that. And if at any point one of us does not accommodate and accomplish what we agreed to in the contract, then the contract is null and void, and we are no longer partners.” It’s a business agreement. The Bible speaks of marriage not as a business contract, but rather as a spiritual covenant, meaning God says, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” That’s a covenant, not a contract. A contract is, “If you don’t make me happy, I’m leaving.”

A covenant is, “Even if you don’t make me happy, I am staying, because I am devoted to you. I love you. I’ve given myself to you.” And when it speaks of a covenant, that’s why at marriage we have witnesses – human beings. We also have God present as divine witness, and we enter into covenant. And that’s why every year anniversaries are celebrated, to remind ourselves and celebrate the covenant of marriage. My wife and I entered into our marriage covenant when we were 21 years of age, almost 14 years ago. This August it’ll be our 14th wedding anniversary. We entered into a marriage covenant.

That’s different than all of my other relationships. So many of my relationships are contractual, whereby I work for the church, and so I’m agreeing that I’ll provide certain work, and the church will compensate me. That’s a contract, all right? I hire people to do work for me, and that’s a contract. But my wife, that’s not a contract; that’s a covenant. It doesn’t matter what she says or does. I love her, and I’m devoted to her, and I’m committed to her, no strings attached. That’s a covenant.

Fourthly, in a covenant, the husband is to provide. Exodus 22 speaks of this. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If a man does not provide for the needs of his family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” So in the marriage covenant there is an expectation that a man will have left his father and mother. He will have established himself as a man – gotten a job, gotten a place to live. And he will be able to feed, house and care for his wife and children, take care of his family.  

He needs to work hard and honest. He needs to provide physically – he needs to feed and house. He needs to provide spiritually – prayer, love, Bible study, encouragement. He needs to provide emotionally – connected with his wife and kids, loving them, pastoring his home. Additionally, my next point is that the Bible calls this the head. Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3 refer to the man in the covenant of marriage as the head of the covenant. Each covenant has a head; in marriage, the man is the head, humanly speaking, of the covenant. God ultimately is the ultimate head of the covenant.

But what it means by the man being the head is not that he’s the boss or the bully or the king. It means that he’s the servant who adores his wife and children and is willing to give himself away for their wellbeing. I’ve preached on this in Ephesians 5 and in the book of Proverbs. If you want to download those sermons, you can. But headship is widely misunderstood. What it means is I take responsibility for my wife and children, and even if it is not my fault, something that should happen, it is my responsibility. So if my wife comes to me and says, “Here’s something that happened,” I don’t say, “Well, that’s your business, not mine. That doesn’t affect me. That’s your problem.”

I say, “It is my responsibility, even if it is not my fault,” because as the head, I’m responsible for my wife and my children. Men do a great disservice when they look at their kids and say, “Oh, you’re having a problem? You’re struggling? Your boyfriend’s a jerk? You’re doing drugs? Well, you’re an adult. You make your own decisions. That’s your problem, not mine.” A father says, “It’s my responsibility to care for my children and my wife, and even if it’s not my fault, it’s still my responsibility because I’m the head.” We see this with Jesus, who is also the head of the church. He takes responsibility for the church, but the sin in the church, quite frankly, is not Jesus’ fault – but he has made it his responsibility.

In the same way, a husband takes responsibility for the wellbeing of his wife and kids. And then lastly, God hates divorce. This is God’s emotional feeling about divorce. Malachi 2, God says, “I hate divorce.” Doesn’t mean that if you’re a divorcee he necessarily hates you, but he hates divorce, and some of you who are divorced, you hate divorce too. It is painful. It is arduous. It is heartbreaking. It is expensive. And it changes the course of your life. So God intended marriage for one man, one woman, to be one in covenant, with the husband and father as the head, providing, and that that marriage would be endearing and enduring because God hates divorce. Now what we know is that that is what is ideal. In the Driscoll family, that is what is reality.

We love each other. We won’t get divorced. When I was dating Grace, one of the things I asked her, I said, “Do you believe in divorce?” She said, “No, I do not.” I said, “Neither do I.” She said, “Why do you ask?” I said, “I need to know going in if you are leaving the back door open in this relationship. I’ve shut the back door. I’m gonna be married. And I’m gonna be happily married, which means one way or another, as Christians, we’re gonna get to happiness together. One way or another, we’re gonna get to happiness together. But if the back door is open, and you’re gonna run out it, we can’t work it out. So I need you to slam the back door. I’ll slam the back door. And we’re gonna live in the house together with Jesus, and we’re gonna work it out, whatever might happen.”

And this doesn’t mean that marriage is not hard. Some of you say, “But your marriage is easy.” Oh no, it’s not. I won’t air all my laundry. I assure you: the curse has touched my home, and my wife also would say that living with me is less than peachy and simple, right? I am a complicated man with a complicated life, and I preach for a living. Try arguing with that guy, right? It’s very hard; very hard. So I understand, right? But then, are there circumstances in which divorce is acceptable in the eyes of God because of unrepentant sin? So I’ll answer your questions, as many as I can. First,  cohabitation is where you’re living and sleeping together, but you’re not married.

I have people walk in here, “We’re living and sleeping together. Well, can’t you treat us like we’re married?” Well, no, because you’re kind of like not married, so we can’t; because marriage in our country is a spiritual thing, where you are married in covenant under God, and also it’s a legal thing, and Romans 13 says you’re supposed to obey the government. So if you’re not legally married, you’re not married. You’re disobeying the law, and you’re disobeying the Lord. If you’re wanting to be treated like a married couple – we’ve had some couples who are cohabitating come in saying, “Well, we’re not getting married for reasons that are it’s a good tax break for us, or financially it’s advantageous for us not to marry.”

We say those are not excuses. You’re either married, or you’re not married, and if you’re living and sleeping together, you’re fornicating, you’re not married. So no, we don’t regard that as marriage. Additionally, what constitutes the legitimate ending of a marriage? In what circumstances is it possible – not mandatory, but possible to get a divorce? The first one that is the most simple is death. 1 Corinthians 7, Romans 7 – there’s actually no debate on this among theologians, right? If your spouse dies, it’s kind of over, right? It’s not like, “And we’re going on a date.” It’s over, right? And I love my wife, and she loves me, and if one of us should die, the marriage is over.

Next question is obviously, “Oh, so you can get out of a marriage for death?” Yes. “Can you kill them?” No, because that’s murder. That’s one of the Ten Commandments. You can’t kill them. You gotta wait for them to die of natural causes. “Want some more bacon, honey? Oh, don’t buckle up – it wrinkles your shirt – wouldn’t want you to have a wrinkle.” Another reason you can get a legitimate divorce is adultery. Now, in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22, if you committed adultery, what did they do to you? They killed you. So you didn’t have to like get an attorney – it was pretty simple. “Did you commit adultery?” “Yes. Oh, I guess I’m out now.” That’s how it worked.

If you commit divorce, you die – or it was people commit adultery, you die, and that meant you didn’t need to get a divorce. Your spouse is dead – it’s out. Now, in the New Testament, adultery is not punished by death, but it is possible to lead to divorce. Jesus uses the word “adultery.”  

Adultery is an exception clause that is possibly used in some circumstances for divorce. Jesus speaks of adultery in Matthew 5. The Greek word is moicheia – it’s adultery. It’s the breach of the covenant. It’s the abandoning of the covenant. And so under some circumstances, adultery may be an acceptable opportunity for divorce, though it is tragic because adultery should never happen. And I would tell you that practically we look at all the variables. Wisdom is required in this. Legalists just like to say, “Well, if you’re not happy, get a divorce,” or, “You should never get a divorce under any circumstances.”

You need to be wise, prudent, Biblical, considered and pastoral in these matters. If one person commits adultery one time and confesses and is repentant and wants to change, I would not say hit the eject button. Like a friend of mine who got married and found that his wife had been sleeping with another man for the whole marriage, and loved that man. And he was married and wouldn’t marry her, so she got married to have this other guy pay her bills while she could run around with the married man – well, that’s a whole ‘nother situation. That’s a life of adultery – unrepentant. So what we’re looking at here is, is there repentance? Is there change? Is there someone who wants to change?

Or are we looking at someone who has chosen a life of unrepentant sin, and therefore is just destroying the covenant of marriage? Also, if a non-Christian – 1 Corinthian 7:10-24 talks about if a non-Christian leaves you, that is acceptable grounds for divorce. What it says is, if a non-Christian and a Christian are married – and let me say this: this is not a license that Christians and non-Christians should marry. If you are a Christian, you do not, cannot, should not, will not marry a non-Christian, okay? You say, “What do you mean by that?” No. That’s what I mean. A Christian does not marry a non-Christian. You say, “Well, they believe in God.” James 2 says so did demons, but you don’t marry them, okay?

You marry someone who loves Jesus if you love Jesus – period. But it does mean – let’s say some of you walk in here, and it’s too late. You’ve already married a non-Christian and you’re a Christian. Or let’s say two non-Christians get married and one becomes a Christian. Then what do you do? Do you get divorced? No. 1 Peter 3 says you love, serve, care for that person, hoping they become a Christian. One of the most beautiful things that I’ve seen happen is where two non-Christians get married, one becomes a Christian, and then the other – in time, because of love – becomes a Christian. I’ve seen some people get baptized together.

And like he will say, “I became a Christian because my wife became a Christian, and then she told me about Jesus and loved me, and I saw Jesus change her, so I wanted Jesus too.” And she says, “And I didn’t get baptized, because I was waiting for him. I wanted us to get baptized together.” And that’s what 1 Corinthians 7 speaks of as well, 10-24, that if you are the Christian, you love the non-Christian. You are kind. You don’t beat them with the Bible. You don’t become moralistic and legalistic and self-righteous. You be gracious, loving, merciful, kind. You try with all of your heart to make the marriage work.

You try to show them the love of Jesus. The hope is that they become a Christian, and if not, and they still are willing to be married to you, then you remain married to them. I have women in this church that are personal friends. Their husbands are not Christians, but they love their husbands. And it’s interesting, because their husbands will say things – they’ve said things to me like, “Boy, her Christianity is good for her. I’ve seen her grow and change, and she’s more loving, and I’ve seen her get rid of bitterness. And she’s a better wife and a better mom. So I’m not into that Jesus thing, but I let her go to church and go to the Bible study, and I’m cool with that.”

1 Corinthians 7 says then remain in that marriage; and who knows, wouldn’t it be nice if your spouse got saved too? But there are occasions when the non-Christian says, “No way! I’m out.” And they walk. I had this occasion to speak to a couple where one was a Christian, one was not a Christian. And they were used to watching porno together, going to strip clubs together, doing drugs together, getting high together. And one got saved and the other didn’t. And the one who got saved said, “I love you, but I can’t do that stuff anymore because I’m a Christian now.” And they said, “Well, that changes everything. All the fun’s gone. The whole marriage has changed, so that’s it. I want a divorce. If you’re not gonna do these things with me anymore, I want a divorce.”

I told the Christian, I said, “Love. Be patient. Pray. Don’t shove him out. Don’t make it bad. Don’t make it hard. Make it easy for them to stay. But if what they say it, “I just don’t want to be married to a Christian,” and they leave, 1 Corinthians 7 says there’s nothing you can do. We’re not bound under such circumstances. God has called us to live in peace, and that is an acceptable reason for divorce. Additionally, sexual immorality is a condition for divorce according to Matthew 5 and Matthew 19. The Greek word is porneia. Jesus describes it as marital unfaithfulness; marital unfaithfulness. It is a word that means more than just adultery; the word for adultery is different than this word.

It can refer to anything from drug abuse to the occult to sexual abuse to sexual addiction to sexual perversion. It’s a very general word. I think what might fit under this might be someone who is just absolutely sexually addicted, and unrepentant. It may be someone who is a habitual drug and alcohol abuser. I had one situation that I think would fit under the most far-reaching definition of this word early on in the church, where a couple started coming, and both he and she both said that they were Christians. But he was not only dealing and doing drugs, he was making drugs in their home. The guy’s cooking meth and making drugs; getting high; having people over doing drugs; selling drugs.

“You a Christian?” “Yeah.” What? The wife and the kids are living in the home. Wife says, “I don’t want to be in a home where drugs are getting made. You know how dangerous that is? I don’t want to be in a home where drugs are getting sold. You know how dangerous that is? I don’t want to be in a home where drugs are getting used. I feel like the kids are in danger, and I’m in danger.” That’s absolutely true. I asked the husband, “What do you think about these concerns of your wife?” He says, “Well, I’m the head. She’s supposed to submit to me.” No, she doesn’t submit to the meth dealer. She submits to Jesus, and Jesus tells her not to do meth with her kids.

I mean some guys pull out headship at the dumbest times. I’ll tell you guys: if you’ve got to pull out the headship verses, it probably means that your wife has already lost respect for you if you’ve gotta default to those verses. Through love, you get respect. If you’ve gotta demand it, that means for some reason you’ve already lost it. I said, “Look, you need to move your kids out of this house. I can’t imagine kids growing up in a drug house.” I told him, “If you come to repentance, we can work this thing out, but if you don’t come to repentance, we can’t live happily ever after. This is marital unfaithfulness. You’re being unfaithful.”

And he was being unfaithful sexually as well, “So you’re an adulterer, you’re a drug dealer, drug user, drug addict – no. No. That’s the breaking of the loving covenant that God intended. You’re supposed to be the husband and the father who loves, defends, cares for, and protects the family, and you are the greatest enemy to their safety.” I think all of these kinds of things would fit under this issue of marital unfaithfulness. Fifthly, treachery or treasonous betrayal; Malachi 2 God says that there were Christian men who had married these non-Christian women – likely because they were beautiful. And then these men recommitted their lives to God and got serious about their faith.

And so they despised and hated their wives because their wives weren’t Christians and didn’t agree with them and were different than them. And so they dealt very treacherously with their wives. Alright, this is the kind of situation where emotionally, you cut each other off; sexually, you cut each other off. Where you live in a different room, and you won’t even talk to each other or touch each other. It’s treason. It’s treachery. It’s cruelty. It’s torment. It’s mean-spirited, and that relates to the next condition, which is hardness of heart.

Jesus says in Matthew 19:8 and Mark 10:5, he said God in the beginning made us male and female. He intended for us to be married and not to divorce. But Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of heart. What that means is stubborn, ongoing, unrepentant, habitual sin. All right, this means that one person in the marriage is just a chronic alcoholic; just drunk, violent, cussing all the time – just a mean drunk. You go to that person, you say, “Could you please get treatment? Could you please get help? When you’re drunk and yelling and passed out, it’s just devastating to me. It’s devastating to the kids. It’s just horrible.”

That person says, “No. It’s none of your business.” Hardheartedness – won’t repent, won’t get help, won’t go to treatment, won’t go to Biblical counseling, right? The guy who’s continually harsh with his wife; just screaming, yelling, cussing, threatening, intimidating – that’s hard heartedness. You go to that guy and you say, “Look, I love you. I need you to get some help. I need you to change.” “No. I won’t do it” – hard heartedness; hard heartedness. I know one guy didn’t talk to his wife for almost a month. They lived together. They were still married. What he said was, “I’m just going to devastate her with silence.”

He’d eat breakfast with her, eat dinner with her, go to bed with her, watch TV with her – never spoke a word. He just ignored her. She would talk to him, he wouldn’t say a word. See, that’s treachery. That’s cruelty. That’s hard heartedness. It’s mean-spiritedness. It’s unrepentant. Divorce is not supposed to happen, but when there is adultery, the non-Christian leaves, there is marital unfaithfulness, there is treason, there is hardness of heart, sometimes divorce does happen because of sin. Though it’s not God’s intention that there be divorce, when people won’t repent of sin, won’t change, won’t apologize, won’t get help, eventually sin leads to death and the marriage dies.

Now, half of marriages end in divorce. We deal with hundreds of marriages, and in ten years we have less than the fingers on one had that we have said, “You have Biblical grounds as a Christian.” So I’m not saying that it never can happen, but I’m saying that most of you who think you meet the qualifications probably don’t. We don’t mean to be legalistic, but at the same time we want to contend for the survival of our marriages. That’s important to us. So then the next question: what do I do if my Christian spouse insists on divorcing me? I’m a Christian, they’re a Christian, and they’ve decided they’re not happy. They love somebody else – all of which is nonsense – and so they want out, and they’re filing divorce. What happens then?

Well, first thing we do, we investigate the grounds, because you gotta sit down, hear one person’s story and the other. Proverbs says that one person seems right until the other is heard, amen? Some of you right now are saying, “Well, I got a friend.” Well, if you didn’t talk to their spouse, you may only be getting half of the story. People lie to arrange the facts in the most convenient order to vindicate themselves. That’s what we do, as sinners. I’ll give you an example. I had one woman call me, some years ago: “Pastor Mark, do you believe a husband can be violent with his wife?” Well, you know, right – you all know – no, a guy can’t be harsh with his wife.

“Well, my husband physically assaulted me.” Oh, really? They go to the church. What did he do? “He grabbed my arms and restrained me.” Oh – well then, I should talk to him. He comes in. Did you do this thing? “Yes, I did.” He said, “Did she tell you why?” No. “We were eating dinner,” he says. “She poured her drink over me, took a plate and whacked me in the head, and then she went for the steak knife and I grabbed her wrist.” I said, “You know, she skipped all that, and she said you physically assaulted her.” He said, “I grabbed her wrist.” I said, “Both wrists?” He said, “No, just the one with the steak knife. She kept punching me with the other one.”

He said, “But I took it, because that wouldn’t kill me.” I said, “You know, you have some variables that greatly alter how I would judge this case – greatly alter.” And this is what happens, right? Some of you say, “But my friend!” Well, I’m telling you, you gotta hear both sides of the case, and the first thing we would do is hear both sides, and the witnesses, and get all the evidence. We would study it Biblically to see if there is grounds for divorce. And if there were not grounds for divorce, we would work towards church discipline, with the goal being repentance, reconciliation, work on the marriage – that would be our goal. We’ve done this many times, and this is the way it goes.

Jesus speaks of this in Mark 10:11-12. Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. If she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” He says you don’t get divorced and remarried as a Christian; you don’t. You work it out. Romans 7:2-3: “A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he’s alive.” If he’s still breathing, there’s still hope, right? 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord)” – he’s saying Jesus spoke about this – “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband, and a husband must not divorce his wife.” He’s speaking to Christians.

Guys, don’t leave your wife. Gals, don’t leave your husband. If you’re Christians, work it out. And 1 Corinthians 7: “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce.” So as Christians, the general answer is no, don’t get a divorce. But let’s say one of you is in sin and leaves – then divorce does happen, because it’s a legal matter, and the state has no-fault divorce laws, and divorce does occur. But as a church, we would work toward reconciliation. We would work toward keeping that family intact. That is most definitely what we would work for every time, also accepting that sometimes sin happens and it doesn’t go that route. Not being legalists, but trying to work for the marriage.

Does this mean – next question – that a woman must endure an abusive relationship, or a man, for that matter? Statistically, more women are physically, emotionally, sexually abused in marriage than men, but men are also often physically abused, and they don’t report it because they believe it is emasculating. 1 Peter 3 says that a husband should not be harsh with his wife and that even though he is physically stronger and she is physically weaker, he in no way should take advantage of that and intimidate or harm her. So no, we don’t believe in any physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual abuse of any sort or kind; it’s a sin. Jesus said we should love one another; that’s not loving.

We also obey the laws of our state, which means if a crime is committed – domestic violence, abuse of a child – we call the cops, and it becomes a legal matter in addition to a church matter.So we abide by all of the laws; we don’t cover any sin. This does not mean that a woman or a man who’s being abused automatically gets a divorce. It may mean that there’s separation. We say, “Wait, you gotta get out of that environment, and let’s see if we can bring this person to repentance, get him treatment, get him help, get him counseling, get him fixed, make him safe.” And then we think about reconciliation, but not before we are assured there is safety; and we’ve dealt with this as well.

“Am I required” – next question – “to take my spouse back after they have committed adultery? They cheated on me. Need I take them back?” Well, again, we look at the scenario.  

So it’s not automatically get out of marriage free card because of adultery. It doesn’t automatically mean that. We’ve seen many marriages spared divorce and saved because of the willingness to use the gospel to take away sin, even sin as horrendous and awful as adultery. So no, it’s not automatically – we will look at it on a case by case basis, and we will see what is the most prudent course of action. Next question – “Can I remarry after my spouse dies?” You know what, that is a judgment call. If your spouse dies, you don’t have to get remarried, but you’re free to according to Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7. I talked to my wife about this, because I’m a jealous husband, right?

I asked my wife, “If I die, would you get remarried?” She’s like, “Why, are you gonna die?” I said, “No, I don’t think so. For a long time I’ll be here, but I wonder if I died, would you get remarried?” She said, “Why do you ask?” I said, “Because it freaks me out thinking about that. I wouldn’t want my kids to not have a dad, but the thought of some other guy being married to my wife freaks me out. So even if you plan on remarrying, tell me you’re not so I feel better, and I’ll be okay.” It’s not a sin to get remarried, but you may want to think about that.

How many of you, if your spouse died, you say, “I just really love them, and I just feel like this is it for me.” I know people like that. You say, “You know what, I’m lonely. I want to remarry. My spouse died.” That’s okay too – you’re free to decide that. It’s a conscience issue. “Can I remarry after divorcing an adulterer?” Meaning two Christians are married. One commits adultery and runs off, gets divorced, it all falls apart. Can the person who is left behind get married – the one who was abandoned; the one who was sinned against? The answer is under certain circumstances, yes.

Now, we would say give time for this person to come to repentance. I have officiated two weddings where Christians were married. One the husband committed adultery, one the wife committed adultery. It ended in divorce. Each of them ran off with their lover, which is a dumb word – their adulterer. Came to their sense, came to repentance, and said, “You know what, that was a sin. What do I do now?” Repent, change, get help. And I had the privilege of officiating two separate remarriages, two separate weddings, where there had been adultery and divorce, but neither had gotten remarried. The spouses who were betrayed left time for God to work.

And today I assure you these are happy, loving, growing Christian families to where I got to see the kids get their family back, okay? So we work for that. We work for that. Now, you don’t see it all the time, but if you can see it, isn’t that good? I mean it broke my heart, the first one, because I was re-officiating the husband and the wife, and the son was the ring-bearer. He got his Daddy back that day. We do work for that. I’m not idealistic saying in a sinful world it’ll always be perfect, but I’m saying we work toward perfection. We work toward God’s best – that’s what we work toward. So is it a freedom to remarry if you’ve been betrayed by adultery and divorced. It is.

But let’s give God a little time to see what God might do. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 19:19. He says, “Do not commit adultery” – quotes from the Ten Commandments – so adultery is a sin; it’s a sin against God and the person, and they’ve been sinned against. Mark 10:10-12: “When they were in the house again the disciples asked Jesus. He said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and married another woman commits adultery against her. If she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’” Luke 16:18 Jesus says, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Here’s the bottom line: you’re two Christians, you get married. If somebody commits adultery and runs off and leaves, and the marriage falls apart, and there’s divorce, they are not free to remarry, period. All right, if you’re here – I mean we love you, and we’ll meet with you and work with you. And you might say, “Well, I got a book that disagrees.” On this issue there is a book for every single conceivable position. You say, “But there’s a church that agrees with me.” There is a church for every conceivable position.  

Now, if that person who was cheated on and abandoned, they are free to remarry providing they’ve given God some time to work it out, and maybe pull a miracle out – but not the person who commits adultery. We’ve had people walk in and say, “I wasn’t very happy, and then I found the love of my life, and our sex is awesome, so I got divorced. Will you marry us?” No. No. No, because you shouldn’t have committed adultery. You shouldn’t have been divorced. You shouldn’t have betrayed your covenant. You don’t get rewarded with another marriage; another opportunity to sin again. No. But the person who was betrayed and abandoned – they have an opportunity to perchance get remarried, and we look at the specific scenario.

And again, if a believer is divorced by an unbeliever, like we talked about in 1 Corinthians 7:15, Christian and non-Christian, non-Christian leaves, the Christian is free to consider remarriage. We would say give it some time to heal up. Give it some time to see if they come to faith. Let’s see what God might do. But there is the possibility of remarriage. Other questions: “Does this mean that the innocent party should remain single indefinitely?” You’re the one who was betrayed. You’re the one who was divorced. The other person left. Should you remain single indefinitely? You should remain single for a while, right? We look at the factors.

Do you have kids? How long did you hang in there before it fell apart? Is the other person open to even meeting and talking about their sin? We look at all the variables, and the length of time we recommend you to be single is in large part contingent upon some of the factors around the divorce, and the possibility of saving the marriage. Some of you are gonna be very frustrated because you’re legalists. You want everything black and white. When you deal with two human beings who get married and sin against each other, and bring in all their family history and their own hurts, it’s complicated. It’s complicated.

It’s easier for me as a pastor to say, “Nobody gets divorced,” or “Everybody gets divorced.” That’s simple to enforce. It’s hard to say, “We want to know you. We want to love you. We want to hear your story. We want to hear your spouse’s story. We want to get to the facts. We want to look at it Biblically. And we want to give prudent, wise counsel” – that’s what we want. “If the offending spouse remarries, is there any obligation for me to remain single?” No, meaning two Christians are married. One gets a divorce and then gets remarried to somebody else. That person who was betrayed, according to Deuteronomy 24:3-4, they’re free to remarry. You can’t remarry them, right? Meaning two Christians get married. They get divorced, and one remarries.

The one who remains single – can they ever remarry that person that they were previously married to? No. It’s over. It’s done. So they are not possibly free to remarry, and we look at the variables. How about this one – “Can I remarry if I divorce my spouse because we were incompatible?” No. Every marriage is the combination of two incompatible evil-doers, amen? You’re all wicked, sinful, depraved. Some of you get married, and you say, “I wasn’t like this till I got married.” Yes, you were; there was just no one there to point it out. You were always like this.

Okay, men and women are different, right? They are incompatible. You say, “Well, why would God make us unhappy?” God’s goal for marriage is not always happiness; it is always holiness, right? So your spouse may be sanctifying you, right? And you say, “Well, I don’t like them.” Well, welcome to the sanctification process, right?

My wife and I are not compatible, unless we are humble, and we focus on serving one another, and I give myself to her, and she gives herself to me, like Jesus humbly serves us. Unless there’s that humble posture of servanthood, marriage does not work. It cannot work. I’ll give you an example. Yesterday – here’s what I did yesterday: I’ve been traveling a lot, speaking a lot. It’s been a brutal season.

And yesterday I had a day at home. And so what I did – finished up a conference this week and all this stuff. Finished up, and went home yesterday. You know what I did? I planted sunflowers. Do I like sunflowers? Do I need sunflowers? Is there something in me that says, “The world is lacking sunflowers, and I must do something about that. I must dig a hole, and I must plant sunflowers?” Nothing in me has ever thought about planting anything, right? I don’t garden. I don’t. And so – but my wife and my daughters too, they like flowers, and I like them. So I am digging dirt. My sons come up to me yesterday – I’m digging holes to put in the sunflowers.

My sons come up, they say, “Dad, what are you doing?” They’re all freaked out. I said, “I am loving your mother. I am loving her like Jesus loves her, that’s what I am doing.” Right? And last night for dinner I had fish. Fish is not meat, for those of you who are paying attention. I like meat. I like dead animals grilled with sauce, that’s what I like. My wife likes fish. My lovely wife looks at me, she says, “I got some good halibut.” “That sounds great. That sounds great.” “I thought you didn’t like fish.” “I don’t, but I like you, and you like fish. So I vicariously like fish – that’s what I do.”

Now, for me, if I had it my way, we wouldn’t have flowers in the yard, we’d have cows. And we wouldn’t eat halibut, we’d eat beef. That’s what we would do. But I need to love and serve my wife, so we plant flowers, and we eat fish, and my wife loves and serves me too. And you know what, that’s what marriage is. Marriage is learning that you are a selfish, egotistical, arrogant, depraved, wicked, crooked, freak, and that you are incompatible with everyone, and that when you get married you are being sanctified by figuring out who you really are – which is at first horrifying.

Which is why we need the gospel: to confess our sins to Jesus, to be forgiven and transformed, and to learn to take on the servant posture of humility before we destroy that other person. So, “We’re not compatible.” I know. Repent, and you will be. Learn to serve each other, and you will be. Be humble like Jesus. Consider others more highly that you ought, Philippians 2 says, and you will be compatible. Work on those areas of incompatibility – don’t just get divorced. Again, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “A wife must not separate from her husband.” It goes on to say, “And a husband must not separate from his wife.” Incompatibility is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, because then you will get remarried to someone else, and the odds are 65 percent that you will divorce them too, because they’re the wrong person. No, the issue is you have the wrong heart. You don’t have the heart of Jesus. You have the heart of Satan, and you’re filled with pride, not service and humility, and that’s the issue. I’m not gonna lie to you and say that my marriage has been altogether simple and easy. My wife would tell you the same thing. But – but – through repentance, we become compatible. Through service, we become compatible. Through humility, we become compatible. And when there’s pride and selfishness, there is incompatibility because we’re not taking care of one another, only ourselves.

Last couple – “What if I divorce my spouse because of domestic violence, child abuse, or abandonment. Can I remarry?” This is an elder call. This is an elder call. The Bible doesn’t speak of this issue. Abuse – doesn’t speak. Doesn’t mean it’s okay; it means it’s an elder call. Pastors meet with you, say, “Okay, what happened? Why did you marry that person? How did it go sideways? What have you learned? How are you doing? Who do you want to marry?” Sometimes we’ll meet a gal who picked the wrong guy. It fell apart. She picks another guy – he’s the wrong guy. We say, “We’re not gonna bless this. You’re making the same mistake twice.”

So the elders, again, we reserve judgment. Is it the right time? Have you healed from your past relationship? Emotionally you’re recovered? How are you doing? “What if I was divorced” – last question – “as a non-Christian?” What if? “I was not a Christian, they were not a Christian, we got divorced. And it’s years later, and I meet Jesus, and I became a Christian. Can I get remarried?” Yeah, but let’s give God a shot.  

We’ve seen some people who sort of start to get to know their ex again because they both became Christians. And I tell you, when you become a Christian, you change. So maybe that person you were married to, and who you are, that really changed. We say, “Let’s give God a shot. Let’s see what God’s been up to. Maybe that was your love. Maybe you did care for them. And maybe with Jesus, what went sideways could be straightened out.” But yeah, you are free to remarry if you were divorced as a non-Christian. Again, we look at the circumstances. If you were a guy who beat his wife, and she left, we’re gonna want to talk to you about that, get you professional help, make sure you’re transformed, changed, so you do that kind of junk any more.

But yeah, if you were divorced as a non-Christian, you become a Christian, generally speaking we would encourage you to work toward marriage to someone who loves Jesus – yeah. So some of you are sitting here today, and you say, “How does this apply to me?” Well, let me say this: first of all, people are complicated. Marriage is complicated. Divorce is complicated. We’re not legalists. We’re not simpletons. We want to know people, hear their story, read the Bible, pray, seek counsel of wisdom from other pastors in our church, and then come to an informed, reasonable decision. Occasionally we will recommend divorce.

Again, in ten years, it is less than five times that we have done that, with hundreds of cases, so you are looking at single-digits, percentage-wise, with Christians. And those are extreme. The husband is molesting the children and beating the wife, and says he’s a Christian, and there’s a huge debate as to whether or not he is. The wife has adulterous affair after adulterous affair after adulterous affair, and is unrepentant, says that she’s a Christian; there are huge questions as to whether or not she is – very rare circumstances. If you’re single, let me tell you this: do not fornicate and have sex before marriage. It will cloud your judgment. Do not date a non-Christian. You might end up in marriage when you shouldn’t be.

Do not cohabitate. Do not live with someone you’re not married to in a romantic way; don’t do that. And if you are single, do not settle. Do not so want to be married that you sort of drop your standards and just rush into marriage, because it’s supposed to be lifelong, and children could be brought – probably will be brought into that relationship. And think of the implications, for generations, if you were foolish in your decision.  

Honor your parents, your pastors, Godly married couples; have them speak into your life. And if the people who love you – your mom, your dad, your brothers, your sisters, your Christian friends, your pastors – say, “Do not be with that person,” guess what?

You say, “Well, you don’t know them like I do.” No, they fooled you unlike anyone else, and you’ve lost objectivity and perspective. There is wisdom in the counsel of many, the Bible says; seek the counsel of many. For some of you, you’re here, and you’re married. I’m telling you: get help before it’s too late. Some of you already have secrets – marital unfaithfulness, adultery, drugs, alcohol, emotional affairs, all kinds of junk. I’m not naïve enough to think it’s not in this room; I know that it is. You need to repent of sin. Confess it to your spouse. And you need to come in and see a pastor immediately. And you need to get help before it’s too late. You need to get help before it’s disastrous.

And your shame may prevent you from doing so, but I tell you: prolonging the inevitable will not solve the marital problems, particularly if there are children involved. Just would implore you to come in, meet with a pastor, and get Biblical counseling immediately. And lastly, some of you are here, and you’re divorced, and you say, “Okay, so can I get remarried, or should I reconcile? What should I do?” I’ll tell you what: we’re gonna need to sit down and talk with you. You’re gonna need to tell us your story. We’re gonna need to ask questions. We’re gonna need to check it out. And then we can open the Bible with you, we can pray for you, we can love you, and we can give you counsel.

We can say, “Here’s where you’re at. Here’s what the Bible says. Here’s the next season of life for you. Here’s what God expects.” So don’t just run headlong in your life. If you’re already divorced, odds are you picked the wrong person, you were the wrong person. You went about it wrong. You lack some sort of clarity already, as evidenced by your divorce. So don’t just be stubborn and hard-headed, and run forward with your life saying, “I’m an adult. I can make my own decisions.” That may have been how you got into trouble. Let us love you, and help you from getting into more trouble. I know it’s Mother’s Day, and some of you are saying, “This is cruel.”

I got 50 shots a year, and I want to make them all count and not waste a Sunday. Paul’s church had a ton of questions for him. I know that some of you have a ton of questions, and I’m trying to answer them as best I can. Yeah, we lift up motherhood. You know what we lift higher – marriage, right? Kids need a mom and a dad who love Jesus, and each other, and use the gospel to grow up in the best possible scenario. Ultimately, as much as possible, that’s what we want. That’s what we want, and that’s what we labor for. For those of you who are convicted of sin of any sort or kind, you can now confess it to Jesus.

Ask him to forgive you. He died and rose to take away sin. Sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. You become a Christian today, recommit yourself to Jesus today, or deal with your sin today, also confessing it to those you are sinning against. When you’re ready, you can partake of communion, remembering Jesus’ body and blood, shed for our sin. Give your tithes and offerings. Communion is for Christians who are repentant; likewise, giving of tithes and offerings is for Christians. If you’re not a Christian, or a visitor, don’t take communion and don’t give your money. We love you; it’s good to have you.

And then we’ll sing, and we’ll worship Jesus, because our hope is in him.

And so Father God, I thank you for your Word. I thank you that it’s practical. I thank you that it is not legalistic, moralistic. I thank you, though, that it is prudent; that it honors marriage; that it puts safeguards around the home; that it wants children to be reared in context where the gospel is used, so that sin does not lead to death – death of the marriage, death of the intimacy, death of the affection. God, on this day I thank you for my mom, that she loves you and loves me. I thank you for my wife, that she loves you, loves me, and loves our kids. She’s dynamite. God, I thank you that my wife and I, because of your grace, we know the gospel, and when we’ve sinned, the gospel has done its work.

And so we are one. We are in love. We are happy, even though it is a sanctifying process, and sometimes that means it is painful. And God, I pray for our church, that we would be a counter-cultural kingdom community in the midst of a very corrupted city. That we wouldn’t just honor moms and dads one day a year – that we would honor marriage every day of the year. And that we would walk into marriage with our eyes open and our Bible open; that we would walk through our marriage, hand in hand, confessing sin, using the gospel. And I pray that our children would be raised in those kinds of homes.

And God, for those who hear this as a message of condemnation because they already are divorced, they are single parents, and life is hard, God, I pray that they would be honest. That they would be honest that they, in some measure or degree, sinned, with who they chose, how they went into the relationship, how they conducted themselves in it; that they would learn lessons from their mistakes; that they would share wisdom with those that are repeating their folly. And that God, for those that you intend to have remarried, that you would give them loving spouses, and if they are parents, that you would give them spouses that would love their children too. And we see this with Jesus, who was adopted by Joseph, and so we ask it in his good name. Amen.

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Mark Driscoll

It's all about Jesus! Read More