I’m a Christian & I Live in the Real World, Thinking Through Ethics – Marriage, Divorce, & Remarriage

05 Jul

This was part #6 to a series on ethics given during the Sunday PM services at Howick Baptist Church. A full PDF along with related links and an MP3 download of the talk can be found here.

Defining Terms:

Marriage is God’s idea, therefore He defines it:

Keller: “The Bible begins with a wedding (of Adam and Eve) and ends in the book of Revelation with a wedding (of Christ and the church). Marriage is God’s idea… If God invented marriage, then those who enter it should make every effort to understand and submit to his purposes for it.”[1]

Marriage is a Covenant of Companionship initiated by a man and woman’s vows:

Keller: “Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now—that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances. What can keep marriages together during the rough patches? The vows.

When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me.

When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken.

When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Passion may lead you to make a wedding promise, but then that promise over the years makes the passion richer and deeper.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love.

This means we must say to ourselves something like this: “Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think, ‘I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.’ No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us—denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him—and in the greatest act of love in history, he stayed. He said, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.” Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfil the promises you made on your wedding day.”[2]


A manmade procedure which formally, legally, and contractually dissolves the marriage covenant previously entered into by a man and a woman.


A covenantal commitment between a man and woman where one or both have previously been married and the first marriage covenant has been formally broken either by death or divorce.

Cultural/Historical Trends:

“There were 20,521 marriages registered to New Zealand residents in the December 2012 year. This is slightly higher than the number of marriages registered in 2011 (20,231). Over the last decade, the average annual number of resident marriages has been 21,108. The highest number of marriages in any year was in 1971, when 27,199 couples tied the knot.

The marriage rate dropped to 19.6 per 1,000 in 1991 (less than one-half of the 1971 rate). Over the next 20 years the rate dropped more slowly, to 11.8 per 1,000 in 2012. Many factors have contributed to the fall in the marriage rate, including the growth in de facto unions, a general trend towards delayed marriage, and more New Zealanders remaining single.

Among all marriages (first marriages and remarriages), the median age at marriage reached historic lows in 1971 – 23.5 years for men and 21.2 years for women – before rising to 32.3 years for men and 30.2 years for women in 2012.

In 2012, the Family Court granted 8,785 divorces. For every 1,000 estimated existing marriages in New Zealand in 2012, there were 10.1 divorces.

In 1981, the number of divorces rose sharply following the passing of the Family Proceedings Act 1980, which allowed for the dissolution of marriage on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.

Divorces recorded a temporary high of 12,395 in 1982. Subsequently, the number fell to a low of 8,555 in 1989 before increasing to a high of 10,609 in 2004. Since then there has been a decline in the number of divorces. Between 2009 and 2012 there were, on average, 8,737 divorces each year.

The trend in age at divorce is still upward. This partly reflects the marked trend toward later marriages, which started in the early 1970s. The median age at divorce in 2012 was 45.7 years for men and 43.2 years for women, compared with 42.4 years and 39.8 years, respectively, in 2002.

Annual divorce statistics do not give a complete picture of the number of marriages ending in divorce. Analysis of divorce statistics by year of marriage shows that just over one-third (35percent) of New Zealanders who married in 1987 had divorced before their silver wedding anniversary (25 years). This compares with 30 percent for those who married in 1977, and 26 percent for those who married in 1967.[3]

  1. From the above, we see, it is not accurate to state as is often done, “One half of all marriages end in divorce.”
  1. Recently studies have also shown that it is, in fact not true, that “the divorce rate for Christians is roughly the same as that for non-Christians.”[4]

What Does the Bible Say?:

Marriage is defined by God:

Marriage was designed by God to be between one man and one woman for one lifetime. (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:21-25; Matthew 19:4-6)


Divorce is permissible (though not required) under two circumstances:


Matthew 19:1-12 (Luke 16:18; Mark 10:1-12)



1 Corinthians 7:10-15


Remarriage is permissible (even encouraged) when there’s been a death of a spouse or a biblically permissible divorce:

1 Corinthians 7:15, 39; Romans 7:2, 3; 1 Timothy 5:14


When remarriage has occurred on unbiblical grounds, the new marriage is a marriage (assuming it’s between a man and a woman) and ought not to be dissolved. Yet, forgiveness should be sought for one’s contribution to the breakdown of the previous marriage and repentance demonstrated in seeking to minimise the consequential effects on others.

When remarriage has occurred on biblical grounds, forgiveness should still be sought for one’s contribution to the breakdown of the previous marriage and repentance demonstrated in seeking to minimise the consequential effects on others.

Matthew 5:10-12; 43-48; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 2:19-25; 3:14-17


Evangelistic/Pastoral Thoughts

  1. It is essential for the church to teach what God says from His Word on marriage and to provide practical helps to couples before and after marriage.
  2. It is essential for the church to teach what God says from His Word on divorce and to provide practical helps to those who may or have experienced divorce.
  3. The faithful and responsible practice of biblical church discipline is essential for serving Christians who may be experiencing a breakdown in their marriage.
    1. This is a continued call for repentance and reconciliation.
    2. The church serves the repentant party by clearly excommunicating the unrepentant party thereby affirming their place of unrepentance.
    3. When speaking to non-Christians, upholding a high Biblical view of marriage will provide gospel opportunities as this will be seen more and more as “out of step with the times.”

“So, what do you need to make marriage work?

You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on.

There, then, is the message of this book — that through marriage the mystery of the gospel is unveiled. Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.

Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom — and speak of them — and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.

This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage.”[5]

[1] Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.

[2] Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011.

[5] Keller, Timothy J., and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton, 2011, pg. 47-49.


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