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Text Sermons : ~Other Speakers G-L : Roger Hertzler : (Dear Pastor: Divorce and Remarriage) 10. WHAT IF THE FORMER MARRIAGE HAD BEEN ADULTEROUS?

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Imagine this scenario. Two women, both of whom are living alone, start attending your church and eventually become converted. After their conversion, the question comes up regarding their marital status. When you find out that both of them have been married before, and that both their former husbands are still living, you explain to them that Scripture forbids their remarriage, since “He who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Later you discover that one of these women, although she had been married before, had actually been married to a divorcee. The marriage she had been in previously had itself been an adulterous marriage. Does this fact change your answer regarding the possibility of remarriage?

Many Christians who are honestly trying to take Jesus’ teaching on divorce at face value would answer yes. Since this woman’s first husband had been married before, they say, their union had not actually been a marriage, but rather adultery. Therefore, since this woman had never been part of a “valid” marriage, she ought to be free to marry someone else.

This position certainly has a measure of logic about it. And if this is your position, you have probably spent some time thinking through this logic and solidifying your beliefs about this kind of situation. I’m therefore sure that convincing you to change your mind is much more than I can do in these few pages.

Yet I would like to ask you to at least consider for a few minutes some thoughts about this issue. Some of these points you have pondered already. Some of them, quite possibly, you have not. These are points which, to me, seem to point strongly to the conclusion that celibacy ought to be the only option available for those who have been in adulterous marriages and have an ex-spouse still living.

Adultery is not only a sin against God; it is also a sin against another person. Jesus said in Mark 10:11, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.”
The simple fact is that a twice-married person has stood beside two different people and made vows of sexual faithfulness to both of them. While it is true that he should not have done so, that fact is that he has done so. To continue in any marital relationship, therefore, would appear to be committing adultery against one of them.

Perhaps we could argue, “Since the second set of vows should never have been made, God didn’t hear those vows, and therefore they can’t be violated.” This argument is dubious since Scripture seems to affirm that God hears even those vows that should not have been made. But whether or not this is true, this argument only takes into account the potential sin against God and ignores the potential sin against man.

The raw nature of adultery is that despite all the arguments that we could present, a remarriage has the potential to feel like adultery to the offended party, even when the first marriage was not valid. If a man would, for the sake of purity, leave an adulterous marriage and then remain single, it could be seen as both understandable and honorable to the wife (and children) who are left behind. But for her to see him to get married again while she must remain single would be like a perpetual sword being plunged into her heart. Does it not seem reasonable that Jesus was thinking of this very scenario when gave the “against her” statement in Mark 10:11?

Jesus’ statement “He who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” was given without any qualification. He did not say “He who marries a divorce woman commits adultery—unless she was divorced from an adulterous marriage.”
This blanket statement by Jesus has only one exception given in Scripture; it is where both parties in a divorce have remained single and then returned to each other (1 Corinthian 7:11). Other than this one exception, the clear words of Jesus state that any marriage to a divorced woman (whose former husband is still living) is adultery.

The woman in the example above is, in the clearest sense of the word, a divorced woman. We may have a good deal of logic for permitting this woman to get remarried. But when we do, we are taking it upon ourselves to make a very crucial call. We are making the call that there is an exception to the words of Jesus, “He who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Dear Pastor, is that a call that you are willing to make?
To allow for this exception adds a murkiness to the issue at a time when clarity is needed. It makes the question of my standing with God rest on the actions of other people, people who for the most part are outside of my control.
To make this exception would force us to drastically complicate the methods of dealing with divorcees who are seeking repentance. Rather than simply asking, “Do you have a former spouse that is still living?” we would need to examine each of the former spouses to see if they had been married before. Then, if they had been, we would need to examine the marital situation of each of their former spouses, and so on.

I believe rather that God is calling His church to take a clear stand against the plague of divorce and remarriage that has swept our nation. He is asking us to sound a clear call for men and women to repent, and then to leave the response to that call in the hands of the hearers. Due to the high cost involved, I fear that that number of those who respond will be very small. Yet He is still calling us to preach His truth with boldness and clarity, and not alter the message or to try to find exceptions that will somehow lessen the cost of following Christ.





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