DOES GOD PERMIT DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE? (PART II)
By Akin Ojumu
Responding to the question the Pharisees asked Him in Matthew 19:3-6, rather than going into the specifics of the marital situations or the varieties of relationships that would exist among people, Jesus instead answered by giving the fundamental principle of marriage. In broad strokes, He painted a picture of the type of marriage that is pleasing to God's eyes. It was an overarching framework for the ideal marriage.
Luckily for us, God did not leave the question of marriage and divorce hanging on just what we have in Matthew 19:1-12 or Matthew 5:31-32. Because this subject is near and dear to His heart, God inspired men like Paul to take the picture that Jesus had already painted, expound on it, and apply it to specific situations and various scenarios of relationship that would be formed among people living in a fallen world.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 7:1-12, the Almighty God is showing us how to apply His principles of marriage to the real-life situations that we often find ourselves.
The Corinthian Christians wrote Paul a letter seeking his help to answer rather thorny questions about marriage and divorce they were dealing with in this particular church that was located in the midst of a decadent society. As you might have imagined, the congregation at Corinth was a mixed bag of people who brought into Christianity the baggage of their past lives.
Present among them were former priestesses of the temple of Aphrodite, ex-prostitutes who engaged in sexual orgies with men and women in idolatrous religious ceremonies. Just as there were men in the congregation who were married to multiple women, there were also women in the church with multiple husbands. The congregation also had within its rank pedophiles, homosexuals, and people who had habitually engaged in all manners of sexual deviancy you can think of. These were indeed a league of extraordinary screw ups who were now Christians trying to live a new life in Christ.
These were the new converts that made up the Corinthian Church. Confronted with an assortment of marital situations and confused about how to handle them, they wrote Paul seeking his counsel. They asked him several questions about marriage, divorce, sex, celibacy, etc. While it is true that you wouldn’t find the specific questions they asked reading 1 Corinthians 7. The questions can easily be deduced from the answers Paul gave them.
Last time, we addressed the first question, which asked whether it was okay for a Christian to abstain from sex all together. We went into great length providing the context of the question and the reason they asked. The next question Paul answered was still about sex, but this time it was about sex between marital couples. The Corinthians wanted to know whether celibacy within a marriage was a good thing.
In 1 Corinthians 7:3-8 we read Paul's response:
“The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise the wife also to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that.”
You see, not only were the Corinthian believers scarred by their old lives of living in sexual debauchery that they now thought that the solution to the sex problem they had was permanent celibacy, but there were also some in the congregation who wanted to extend the sexual abstinence even further. These folks advocated for legally married couples to also abstain from having sex within the confines of their own marriage. Married women were telling their husbands, “Honey, the shop is closed permanently,” and the men were doing the same to their wives, letting them know that henceforth, “we are no longer going to do it.”
As you may expect in such a high sexual tension environment, pandemonium broke out. Frustrated husbands, who had been denied intimacy by their wives for months got angrier and angrier as the days of forced abstinence dragged on. And the wives, needing to satisfy their normal sexual urges, were being told by the husbands that their bodies were, “Corban” – that is, their bodies now belonged to the Lord and cannot be defiled by sex.
Paul, understanding who they were and where they were coming from, magnanimously responded by letting them know that celibacy within a marriage is an unhealthy thing, and that couples who engage in it run the risk of falling into sexual sin and ruining their marriage. He taught them how God sees marriage; which is a union of two people cleaved together to become one person and one entity as written in Genesis 1:27-28 and Genesis 2:24. In such a union, there is joint ownership of the bodies, and each partner has the right to the other partner’s body and so they cannot be denied of sex.
Paul went on to tell them that if there ever was going to be abstinence in the marriage, it must be by mutual consent, for a limited period of time, and for the purposes of devotion and prayers. Other than that, marital celibacy is not kosher for the spiritual man or woman.
Next on the list of questions the Corinthians asked Paul in their letter was about the unmarried, widowed, and the virgins in the church. We’ll take those next time, God willing.