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Dec 04, 2011

Divorce Matters

Passage: 1 Corinthians 7:10-40

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life Together--First Corinthians

Category: Life Together

Keywords: marriage, divorce, singleness, widowhood


America suffers from the highest divorce rate in the world. The church seems to be no exception. This message looks at what God says about divorce and why. It examines the fallout of divorce in children's lives and calls singles, married, widows and divorced to commit to God's call on each of their lives.


Divorce Matters

I Corinthians 7:10-40

December 4, 2011

This week, in preparing for this message, I Googled one of the words most used in today’s Scripture that we’re looking at, DIVORCE.  You know what the first thing that came up was?  A web site that is headed “Washington Divorce--$299.  It promises this: “Complete Divorce in 3 Easy Steps. No Lawyer, Fast, & 100% Guaranteed.”  Divorce Source, Inc., promises  that this “service is a perfect "do it yourself (without a lawyer)" solution for any uncontested divorce (with or without children) that will be filed in the state of Washington.”  Then it goes on to define an “uncontested divorce” as  “ one in which you and your spouse are in agreement….” J  Then why are you getting a divorce, for Pete’s sake?!!!

You would never know by Google that this is THE most painful, destructive and damaging issues that is unfolding in our nation and has been over the past 40 years.    

The very mention of the word “divorce” triggers a host of uninvited negative emotions, feelings and thoughts in so many of you.  Those of you who have been through divorces, whether as children or spouses, already feel beat-up by the experience itself.  The legal system and the effects of divorce on you and your children may have left you raw, isolated and worn out. 

      In many cases, the church has simply added to that burden by the way it has both talked about divorce OR failed to talk about it.  Whatever the reasons, statistics show that church-going divorcees are dropping out of church at a far higher rate than churched singles and married couples.  At the very time when you need the love and support of God’s family most, God’s people are somehow dropping the ball. 

I feel that tension as a pastor.  We feel it as God’s people.

  • How do we uphold God’s plan for marriage between one man and one woman that He intends to last until death while at the same time helping those who are going through divorce, whether chosen by them or forced upon them?
  • How do we convince couples considering divorce to not give up on their marriage yet, to keep trying, to exhaust every possible alternative…and then still hang on a little longer?
  • How do we convince them of what I know will result in a divorce—often not only the destruction of the most important human bond possible but the negative and unseen consequences it will have for their children, their finances, their parenting, their social life, their mental and physical health and often their relationship to God and his people? 

So as we move into this passage today, can we also move into Christ?  Whether you are single and happy or married and unhappy J, can we let down our guard to God? 

      You may be the one of the millions of children in America who grew up in a broken home.  You may be the spouse who is considering leaving.  You may be happily married.  You may be going through an ugly separation right now.  Maybe your hesitant to get married because of all the divorces you see happening around you.  Can we ALL let God do some healing today through His word and by His Spirit?


Today’s text does not have any particularly difficult passages to exegete.  The challenge of the text is not in its understanding but in its application.  It is just such a challenge in application because it runs SO counter to our prevailing culture in virtually every form. 

  • It collides with our culture’s “no-fault divorce.” 
  • It collides with our culture’s “free-sex,” “hook-up” and “cohabitate” practices
  • It collides with a culture that is all about making life as painless and easy as possible rather than growing to be like Christ as much as possible.

So this passage speaks to every one of us here today.  Every one of us is either single, married, divorced or widowed.  We all fit one of those 4 categories.  And we are all impacted by each of them too.  Paul’s words to all 4 categories are direct and, at times, just plain difficult to carry out. 

So here we go!

7:8-9-- 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Any questions?  O.K.  We’ll move on!  J 

Seriously, having just finished his instruction on the importance of marriage and particularly sex in marriage in the midst of an overly-sexualized culture in vss. 1-6, Paul says in vs. 7 that he wishes everyone was single as he was at the time.  In verse 8, Paul simply applies that same preference for singleness to every unmarried person and every widowed person.  He will give the reasoning behind that preference later (in vss. 25-40) after he addresses several challenges within marriage and what to do about divorce.

Vs. 9’s call to singles and widows/widowers to marry rather than to fall into sexual immorality echoes vs. 2 when Paul says that marriage is far in a way to be preferred to choosing sexual immorality as a single person. 

Clearly, the biblical answer for Christian singles who are losing the battle for sexual purity is marriage.  As every married person knows, that will not solve your problems with the sexual part of your nature.  It will simply exchange one set of known problems for another set of unknown problems, even sexually. 

      (I once had a ministry-mentor pastor who came to staff meeting the week after he had announced his resignation to the church and gave the pastoral staff his take on why pastors often change churches:  “They are willing to exchange a set of known problems in the church they know for a set of unknown problems in the church they are going to.”  Wise observation, me thinks!)

ILL:  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had couples who are living together or at least sexually active with one another get in touch with me and ask if I will do their wedding.  I invariably ask them, “So, why do you want me to marry you?  Why do you want a ‘church wedding?’”  Almost without exception they will say something like, “Well, we want God’s blessing on our marriage,” or “We think God should be a part of our marriage.” 

      I go on to talk about why it is important both in terms of obedience to God’s stated command to abstain from sex outside marriage and to the strength of their relationship and development of their individual character for them to practice at least several months of abstinence from sexual involvement together before marriage.  In fact, I tell them that I probably won’t marry them if they don’t. 

      Many of those couples simply say, “Well, I don’t think we can do that.”  To which I reply, “Well then, God says you should go ahead and get married as soon as possible.”  And I recommend they go down to the courthouse, get a license and get married 2 days later by a judge.  Then if they want a “wedding celebration,” plan that for later. 

      I find it amazing how many couples look at me like I just turned into a Tyrannous Rex dinosaur.  It is utterly amazing to me how both modern day secular and Christians couples see absolutely NO connection between God granting his blessing over their marriage and them following His commands about sexuality!  It’s like they are saying to God, “We really want your blessing on this marriage but we really won’t do what you ask us to do in order to obtain that blessing.”

God’s answer to couples who cannot contain their sexual passions outside of marriage is MARRY!

Starting in vs. 10, Paul tackles the knotty problem of problem marriages.  So here goes.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.   

      That little “not I, but the Lord” statement simply means that Paul is referencing something the Lord Jesus already gave instruction about.  You’ll find it in Matthew chapters 5 & 19.  Jesus simply gave this basic, overall, one-size-fits-everyone command, “Don’t divorce.”  The only exception Jesus specifically gave to that was in the case of a spouse who committed adultery.  The non-adulterous spouse was permitted to divorce their spouse. But they were never commanded to do so. 

      I think God’s preference is to heal even those marriages scarred by sexual infidelity.  And He can do that.  I’ve seen him do it.  But God also knows that it takes some pretty mature people to work through marital infidelity and not divorce.  More often than not, the failure to guard the sexual bond between a husband and wife will cause damage that is beyond the maturity or willingness of a couple to work through and overcome. 

      Jesus said that divorcing one’s spouse for causes other than sexual infidelity would eventually result in people engaging in sexual immorality, usually through remarriage to someone else. 

We don’t have time this morning to pour over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew about divorce.  But one very important thing Jesus did say about divorce which Paul does not include here is what he responded when some Pharisees asked him a question in Mt. 19:7. 

      Their question was in response to Jesus conservative command on marriage which stressed how a man and woman in marriage become “one” through what God does and that people should not seek to undo that.  The Pharisees then asked, “Why then, did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”  They are referring to Deut. 24

      Jesus’ response is very instructive.  “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning.”  And then he gives the basis of Paul’s command in I Cor. 7 by saying in Mt. 19:9, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 

Jesus…and Paul…are clearly speaking to self-proclaimed followers…disciples of Jesus Christ.  Their call is simply, “Don’t divorce.” 

      But both of them also recognize that God also permits divorce to take place.  He actually permits in the marriage arena what he hatesjust as he does in many areas of life. 

  • God hates the worship of false gods (Deut. 12:31) and all the detestable stuff that goes along with false-god worship…but he permits people to do it.
  • God hates “with a passion” people who love violence (Ps. 11:5)…but he permits violent people to be violent.
  • God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 18:23 & 33:11)…yet he allows the wicked to die. 
  • God “hates divorce” according to Malachi 2:16.  13 Another thing you do: You flood the LORD’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the LORD is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

Why does God hate these different things? 

Because they do terrible damage to people whom he has created to enjoy life, not be damaged by it.  They destroy the very creatures God created to enjoy Him and the life He made for us. 

Notice in Malachi 2:15 God even gives the reason why he hates divorce.  It has to do with 1.) the relationship of the husband and wife to God himself, and 2.) the relationship of their children to God himself. 

Divorce does violence to both spouses and their children.  It mars and defaces the work God wants to do in making spouses and their children into holy people through marriage and the family.  Is it any wonder that Satan goes after marriage in every culture of the world with such violence? 

Paul echoes Malachi in I Cor. 7:12ff. 

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Paul is talking about the positive effect that a godly, born-again, Christ-centered spouse can have living in the close range of marriage upon 1.) their children, and 2.) their unbelieving, yet-unsaved spouse. 

When vs. 14 says that “the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband,” Paul is not here saying that anyone’s marriage to a believing spouse saves or sanctifies them in the sense of granting them salvation just because they live at close range. 

            “Sanctified” simply means “set apart.”  Marriage to a believing follower of Jesus does that to an unbelieving spouse or unbelieving children.  It “sets them apart” as recipients of a gospel witness “at close range.”  It sets them apart from the average person in the world because they now can see the difference being a Christ-follower makes at close range in the family context.  And, praise God, it often results in those spouses or children surrendering their own lives to Christ eventually and receiving God’s gift of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. 

Q:  How many of you are today a Christian because of either A.) a spouse who accepted Christ before you did and helped you come to faith in Jesus, or B.) a believing parent who led you to faith in Jesus?  (Hands.)

Statistics tell us that most Christians in America, at least, came to faith in Jesus Christ before the age of 12.  It is somewhere around 90% who today profess Christ as Lord and Savior.  That is contrasted with the 70-80% of Spokanites who don’t go to church…and don’t take their kids to church…and certainly don’t lead them to faith in Jesus Christ.  That is contrasted with the 90-95% of Puget Sound residents who fall into that same category. 

Godly marriages and godly parenting is God’s best evangelism and discipleship incubator in the world!  But when divorce enters into the marriage where one or both partners are believers, it has a tendency to blow not only the spiritual moorings of the children to pieces but also a host of other important factors in kids’ lives. 

Just in case you don’t believe God’s word about what divorce does to children, take a look at these statistical realities for children of divorced parents.  [PowerPoint]

  • Rebecca O'Neill in her 2002 book Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family, states, “For the best part of thirty years we have been conducting a vast experiment with the family, and now the results are in: the decline of the two-parent, married-couple family has resulted in poverty, ill-health, educational failure, unhappiness, anti-social behaviour, isolation and social exclusion for thousands of women, men and children.   [From Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family, By Rebecca O'Neill; Sept. 2002, CIVITAS]  The only thing I would change about that statistic is the term “thousands.”  It’s millions!
  • Each year, over 1 million American children suffer the divorce of their parents.
  • Half of the children born this year to parents who are married will see their parents divorce before they turn 18.
  • Teenagers in single-parent families and in blended families are three times more likely to need psychological help within a given year. (Peter Hill “Recent Advances in Selected Aspects of Adolescent Development” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1993)
  • Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. (Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment” Sage Publications, 1988)
  • Following divorce, children are fifty percent more likely to develop health problems than two parent families. (Angel, Worobey, “Single Motherhood and Children’s Health”)
  • A study of children six years after a parental marriage breakup revealed that even after all that time, these children tended to be “lonely, unhappy, anxious and insecure. (Wallerstein “The Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1991)
  • Children of divorce are four times more likely to report problems with peers and friends than children whose parents have kept their marriages intact. (Tysse, Burnett, “Moral Dilemmas of Early Adolescents of Divorced and Intact Families. Journal of Early Adolescence 1993)
  • Children of divorced parents are roughly two times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who benefit from living with parents who did not divorce. (McLanahan, Sandefur, “Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps” Harvard University Press 1994)
  • Almost 50 percent of the parents with children that are going through a divorce move into poverty after the divorce.

The resulting epidemic of “fatherlessness” in America has produced even more troubling data.  Using a conservative estimate that 27% of children today are raised in fatherless homes (some stats I’ve read put it more at 38-45%), here are the increased dangers for children where the father is absent:

Children from fatherless homes are:

  • 4.6 times more likely to commit suicide,
  • 6.6 times to become teenaged mothers (girls, of course),
  • 24.3 times more likely to run away,
  • 15.3 times more likely to have behavioral disorders,
  • 10.8 times more likely to commit rape,
  • 6.6 times more likely to drop out of school,
  • 15.3 times more likely to end up in prison while a teenager.
  • 33 times more likely to be seriously abused (to a degree that requires medical attention),
  • 73 times more likely to be killed.

And here’s a surprise for spouses who might be considering breaking up.  A long term study released in 2002 by the Institute for American Values found that “unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional or psychological improvements than those who stayed married.”  In other words, divorce does make you happier than the tough marriage you may be in.

But here’s the real shocker:  the study also found that almost 8 out of 10 couples who avoided divorce were happily married 5 years later.

Maybe that’s one reason Paul was so strong about not trying to get out of marriage once you are in one.  We, God’s kids, don’t so much need a change of circumstances as we need a change of heart. 

I don’t give you those statistics to bum you out or make you feel like your family is doomed if you’ve experienced divorce.  I show you that because it shows the statistical truth of God’s word.  Why aren’t these realities being shouted from the rooftops or at least posted on the halls of divorce courts? 

            God cares too much to let his children wander through life without telling us the truth about the issues that matter the most.  Divorce is, unfortunately, one of them…and it always has been.

ILL:  I appreciate the story of the mother who received a call from her distraught daughter who had just been married several months previously.  The mom took the call into the bedroom and closed the door, leaving the dad in the living room wondering what his wife and daughter were discussing.  The call was fairly brief.  The mother came out to find her husband pacing anxiously in the living room.

            “Well?” the father said.  “What was that all about?”

            “They had a fight,” the mother replied.  “She said she wants to come home.”

            “Well, what did you tell her?” quarried the father.

            “I told her… she was home.”

That’s pretty much what Paul is saying in 7:17-24 when he gives a short list of the different conditions we may find ourselves in at any given time walking with Christ. 

Vs. 20—“Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.” Then he goes on to address slaves and freemen, married people and single people.  He tells each of us to not let whatever state or position or condition we find ourselves in to cause us to want to change it. 

Vs. 27ff-- Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

Paul sees marriage as a more complicated role for people whose passion is to devote themselves to God’s kingdom work as much as possible.  He says this starting in vs. 32--

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Singles, when you get to thinking that being single is a terribly heavy burden rather than a gift from God, go find someone who is living in a bad marriage.  Go find someone who is going through a divorce, preferably someone with children.  (That’s not terribly hard to do in our culture or in the church today.)  Ask them what it feels like, what the challenges are, what is pressing in on them right now, how they feel watching their kids, what it’s doing to their finances. 

            And married people, when you are growing tired or worn out by your marriage, go talk with someone who has just lost their spouse to sudden and unexpected death.  Sit and listen to what they now miss and wish they could go back and change.  Sit down with someone who has been single for 30 or 40 years and ask them what is hard about being single.

You see, every state and every condition in life has hardships and challenges.  We’ve been so conditioned by our “feel good” culture that we instinctively run from difficulties.  We instinctively search for the life, even the “Christian life,” where there will be fewer and shallower struggles. 

            All the while, God says, “Don’t run.  Find me in this.  Seek first me and my kingdom, my agenda, my heart for you.  All this is passing—singleness, marriage, loneliness, houses, wealth, pain, death.  It’s all going to be gone some day.  So don’t run from what I can do through it to develop Christ in you.” 

Story of Gladys Aylward—see Steedman’s Letter’s to a Troubled Church,  p. 110-11. 

Gladys Aylward dedicated her life to God at a revival service in London in 1930.  Soon afterward, with less than ten dollars in her handbag, she set out for China to help an aging missionary woman with her work.  Traveling alone, a woman in her mid-twenties, Gladys made the perilous journey by train, bus, ship, and mule.  She arrived in the city of Yangchen, where she helped the elderly missionary woman turn an old building into an inn.  Whenever travelers came to the inn, the two Christian women provided food and lodging—and they told the weary lodgers about Jesus Christ.

            Though Gladys didn’t know a word of Chinese when she arrived, she quickly learned the language.  Together, Gladys and the missionary woman saw many people come to Christ.  Before long, the older woman died, but Gladys continued running the inn with the help of a Chinese Christian man who served as the chef.

            Through her work at the inn, Gladys Aylward became acquainted with the mandarin (high government official) of Yangchen.  The mandarin called upon Gladys to resolve the problem of repeated riots at the local prison  She told him to improve conditions and give the prisoners meaningful work to do, and the riots would end.  The mandarin implemented her plan—and the riots stopped.  From then on, the mandarin referred to Gladys Aylward by a Chinese name, Ai-weh-deh, which meant “the Virtuous One.” 

            Gladys became a Chinese citizen in 1936.  She lived a simple life and dressed in the Chinese style.  She became acquainted with a Welsh missionary couple in the nearby town of Tsechow—and when she saw how happy this husband-and-wife team was, she realized for the first time that she was lonely.  So Gladys Aylaward began to pray for a husband.  She asked God to call an Englishman to come out to China, meet her, fall in love, and propose marriage—but no Englishman ever came.  After a couple of years of praying without result, she confided to a friend, “I know that God answers prayer, so I believe God has told my Englishman to come to China—but he must not have obeyed God’s call!” 

            In 1938, Imperial Japan invaded China.  Japanese airplanes bombed the city of Yangchen, causing many deaths and forcing the townspeople to flee to the mountains.  Gladys Aylward gathered 94 orphans and led them on a harrowing 12-day treck over the mountains, eventually bringing the children to safety on the far side of the Yellow River.  In 1947, she returned to England for health reasons but soon returned to China, eventually settling in the island province of Taiwan.  Her story was made into the movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.  Gladys died a single woman in 1970 having never found her Englishman to marry. 

            Though single all her life, Gladys Aylward once remarked that she was sometime lonely but never alone. She took her stand for the Kingdom of God as she was, where she was.   

I think it is time that some of us took our stand more directly in Christ, where he has planted and called us.  It is the Enemy’s tool to deceive us into thinking that one condition is worse than another—that singleness is worse than marriage…that being married to this man or that woman is worse than singleness…that the loneliness of widowhood or divorce is worse than the challenges of marriage and parenting.  If you’re a young adult, you are told that life without a boyfriend/girlfriend is horribly inferior to a steady relationship.  You are told everywhere you turn that being abstinent sexually is gravely inferior to playing the field every weekend. 


So here is what I want to invite you to do.

  • If you are married here today, I want you to affirm your willingness to remain right where God has you.  I want you to raise your hand right where you are seated if you are saying today, “Lord God, I choose to devote myself fully to my spouse again, publicly.  I reject the world’s call to solve our problems by separation or divorce.  I stand on your calling to me to marriage.  And I accept afresh your call in my marriage to influence my spouse, my children and any successive generations you give me for the glory of Jesus Christ.  I will live to set them apart unto you and your kingdom.”
  • If you are single, either never married or divorced or widowed, I want to ask you if you will also raise your hand and by so doing say to God, “Father, I receive from you again today the gift of singleness.  I choose to embrace what may be a temporary or permanent gift.  I also choose sexual purity and integrity as a single person.  I ask you to help me discover the advantages of the single life and to use my singleness well to seek first your kingdom and righteousness.
  • To those who have been divorced:  Will you open your heart to a fresh work of God’s healing.  By that I mean, will you allow God to use even something that was not His will for you to bring life and relationship with Him that is His will for your life?  Will you simply say, “Father, please heal me afresh today…and help me to patiently endure and grow through whatever trials and challenges you have for me in this divorce.  Please help my entire family to heal and show us your grace in the midst of this challenge.”
  • COMMUNION:  Healing, inviting Jesus Christ once again to be Lord of your life in whatever place you are.

29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.]


We pray for blessings,

            We pray for peace,

Comfort for family,

            Protection while we sleep.

We pray for healing,


We pray for your might hand

            To ease our suffering.

All the while

            You hear each spoken need

Your love is way too much

            To give us lesser things.

Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

            What if your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights

            Are what it takes to know you’re near?

What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, your voice to hear.

            We cry in anger when we cannot feel you near.

We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love.

            As if every promise from your word is not enough.

And all the while you hear each desperate plea.

            As long as we have faith to believe.

Because what if…

When friends betray us

            When darkness seems to win

We know that pain reminds this heart

            That this is not, this is not our home.