The Lord’s challenge to us when he was about to leave this world to go back to the Father in heaven was to “Go and make disciples in all the nations baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Can you imagine the Lord adding a postscript to his commission saying, “Unless of course they have been divorced and are remarried”? I can’t imagine that at all. In Acts 1:8 Jesus even gave them a plan of action “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth.” He wanted them to begin where they were and spread out carrying the message about him and his gospel until the whole world knew the message and had the opportunity of salvation.
On the day of Pentecost when Peter stood to preach to the multitudes who had come to Jerusalem to worship according to the Old Testament law, he told them that God was fulfilling his promise to send the Holy Spirit and that “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He proceeded to tell them how a person should call on the name of the Lord. When he told them that they had taken and by wicked hands had crucified and slain the Son of God they were cut to the heart and cried out to him and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Three thousand people that day gave their life to the Lord and were baptized to have their sins forgiven. Knowing that divorce was prevalent in the first century both among the Jews and throughout the world, are we to suppose there was not a single divorced and remarried person in the crowd of three thousand who came to the Lord that day? In a short time there were five thousand more. Again, do we suppose there weren’t any divorced and remarried people in the crowd? Why don’t we somewhere in the Book of Acts find one example of a couple being turned away from the church because their marriage wasn’t acceptable? We read in I Corinthians 5 of the man who was having sex with his step mother and was to be withdrawn from as a result. But it is amazing that you can read through the whole New Testament and there wasn’t a single time that any church was told to withdraw from some couple or to refuse membership for some couple who had been divorced and now were married to each other.
The apostles were the inspired interpreters of what Jesus had said when he was on the earth. He had said to them that he had more to tell them than they were able to handle at the time. So he promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with them, among them and in them to guide them into all truth. He was to remind them of the things that he had said. It was that inspiration that led Matthew to record Jesus messages about divorce and remarriage in Matthew 5:32 and 19:1-11. It was that same inspiration that led Paul to write I Corinthians 7 to answer the questions that had been raised by the church in Corinth with regard to marriage. It would have been tremendous if God had chosen to tell us what the questions were that they asked of Paul but we aren’t given that list. We are given his answers to the questions so we can guess what some of the questions were at least. But there is one major point that should stand out before we look at I Corinthians 7. It is certain that God’s Spirit didn’t lead Paul to contradict anything that Jesus had said. But it is also true that the writings of the Apostles were given to both interpret what had been taught by Jesus and to give us a fuller explanation of what had been said. Their job was to take the messages of Jesus and apply them to situations that were being faced at the time so we could see how to apply them to situations in our own time. It is amazing that we grasp the principle that you interpret the gospels in light of the letters of the apostles in every topic except divorce and remarriage. How many times have you heard someone when reading the Sermon on the Mount come to the passage where Jesus said, “Give to him that ask” and had them say, “Yes but Paul said, ‘If a man won’t work neither should he eat”? But if one suggest that we interpret what Jesus said on divorce and remarriage in light of I Corinthians 7 someone goes off the deep end thinking that one is saying that Paul contradicted Jesus.
There is certainly no contradiction between what Paul teaches and what Jesus taught. But Paul does take the principles Jesus taught and apply them to situations and circumstances that were never dealt with in the gospel accounts. In our next blog we will begin to work our way through I Corinthians 7 and Paul’s answers to their questions.