Marriage Obligations and Divorce
“That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.”—Gen. 2:24, NW.
1. What marriage rule must prevail among Christians, as shown by what scriptures?
FOR his followers Jesus Christ put marriage back where God had started it in the garden of Eden. God gave the perfect man Adam one wife, making him monogamous. The Christian that is justified or declared righteous in God’s sight may have no more than one living wife. In the congregation the overseers, who are spiritually “older men,” and the ministerial servants may be “husbands of one wife” only. They are the men to be followed as examples of the flock, and so all other married persons in the flock may have only one living marriage mate. (1 Tim. 3:1, 2, 12, NW; Titus 1:5-7) Christians must stick to their marriage mates in faithfulness, in love, so remaining in it associated with God.
2. From whom only may a man draw sexual delight?
2 This does not permit a man to commit adultery or have sex relations with any other woman. He should be satisfied with and draw delight from sexual relations with only his wife; as it is written: “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Why should your springs be scattered abroad, your streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers along with you. Let your fountain be blessed to you, and get your enjoyment from the wife of your youth. A lovely hind, a graceful doe—let her breasts intoxicate you always, with her love be continually ravished. Why, my son, should you be ravished with the wife of another, and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Prov. 5:15-20, AT) Committing adultery makes the guilty one subject to disfellowshiping from the New World society.
3. (a) What did God’s law provide that a wife should receive from her husband? (b) How did that law safeguard a man’s marriage rights?
3 God created the sexes particularly for the peopling of the earth by bringing forth children. (Gen. 1:27, 28) In his law to Israel God provided that a wife should have from her husband “her sustenance, her clothing and her marriage due,” undiminished. This means she has the right to have children if she wants them. (Ex. 21:10, 11, NW) This was shown by God’s law of brother-in-law marriage, whereby the brother-in-law was obliged to marry the widow in order to give her a child and thus raise up the name of his dead brother and not leave his brother’s widow childless. (Deut. 25:5-10) A man was also entitled to have children by his wife. That is why, when the call to the army of Israel came to him, if he was simply engaged to marry a girl he could not be drafted till after the engagement was over and he was fully married. Even then he could not be drafted until he had lived a year with her as a married man and had the opportunity to have a child by his wife and see and enjoy it. (Deut. 20:1-5, 7; 24:5) The wife’s claim on the man preceded that of the army, for her sake and for the sake of the family name. He must give her the “marriage due.” She must give him his due.
4. What may Christian couples choose to do and that without censure?
4 After the great flood Jehovah God repeated to Noah and his family the mandate to have children. But there is now no procreation mandate laid upon Christians. Otherwise, no Christian should remain single and childless. So no Christian obligation exists now before the battle of Armageddon to have children. To keep as free as possible for the direct service of God in preaching the good news of his kingdom, some Christian couples may choose to remain childless, thereby avoiding parental obligations and keeping unburdened. If there were now in force a procreation mandate from God, all married members of the New World society would choose to have children immediately, and not delay it till after Armageddon, if possible. Although under the original procreation mandate from God Adam and Eve did not have any children in the garden of Eden for what time they were there. It was not for their failing to conceive children at once that they were driven out. No married couple should be criticized for refusing or failing to have children now before Armageddon.
5. What misconceptions have caused celibate marriages, and why have these never fared well?
5 This is not saying that married couples should not give each other the sexual due. This is not saying that, before getting married, they should make an agreement and enter a common vow before God to live a celibate life even after marriage, having no sexual relations but merely enjoying each other’s companionship. No one should think that this is raising marriage to a spiritual level and keeping it on an exalted, unfleshly plane, and so belittling the marriage of others who have sexual relations. If a married couple does not want to pay marriage dues, then the man and woman should not marry at all and not subject the mate to deprivation of what is natural and craved naturally. By celibacy they are not putting their marriage on a level higher and holier than that of others. They cannot change God’s honorable sexual arrangement. Celibate marriages have therefore never fared well.
6, 7. Celibate marriages involve what inconsistencies, and what advice does Paul give in this regard?
6 The others are not degrading their married life by intercourse, but are following an honorable, rightful course. There is no proper marriage for so-called “Platonic friendship” just because the end of the world is so near. If an engaged couple think natural connections are carnal, then why wed at all? Why have one of the opposite sex so close to one all the time, in the most intimate privacy? If it is not good or spiritually upbuilding to touch a woman, why live so intimate with her even in celibate marriage? Be natural, be normal, do not be falsely idealistic. Do not be like some Irish Catholic girls who are in the news, who get married but refuse to give their husband his due because they want to imitate Jesus’ mother Mary and remain “ever virgin.” The apostle Peter instructed them never to handle their married life that way, but to recognize their husband as their “lord.” (1 Pet. 3:5, 6) The apostle Paul, who at least once set the apostle Peter straight, wrote:
7 “Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to have intercourse with a woman; yet, because of prevalence of fornication, let each man have his own wife and each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband. The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not be depriving each other of it, except by mutual consent for an appointed time, that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-regulation. However, I say this by way of concession, not in the way of an order.”—1 Cor. 7:1-7, NW.
8. (a) Why is faithfulness in marriage important? (b) What counsel does Peter give husbands?
8 The everlasting life of a married person depends upon his faithfulness to his marriage contract. Jehovah, accompanied by his Messenger of the covenant, is now at his spiritual Christian temple and warns that he has come near to judgment and will be a swift witness against adulterers. (Mal. 3:1, 2, 5, Da) The apostle Peter says that a Christian husband should treat his wife understandingly and as a fellow runner in the race for everlasting life in the new world. His words are: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Pet. 3:7, NW) A Christian will therefore not abuse his wife either physically or spiritually. If he does not help his wife and children to gain life in the new world, how could he be expected to help outsiders to do so?
9. How should husbands love their wives, and what are some of the ways in which they can show this?
9 Jesus Christ loves his “bride,” who is to be his “wife.” His married followers must also love their wives. “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, . . . let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Eph. 5:25, 33, NW) To some former pagans the command to love one’s wife may sound strange, but a Christian is under orders to do so. He should love her by deeds as well as words, being concerned “how he may gain the approval of his wife” as far as he conscientiously can. (1 Cor. 7:33, NW) He should sit with her in congregational meetings, he should study the Bible at home together with her and build up a oneness of spiritual interests with her. This may be difficult at first or unusual.
10. How can husbands and wives enhance each other’s happiness, and what common possession ought to provoke love between them?
10 But as a husband begins showing love in little ways of expressing it and notes the pleasure of his wife over it he will find that he likes it. He will want to do it some more and to enlarge it. It will become normal, natural for him to do so. He will grow in appreciation that this is a showing of the spirit of God, the fruitage of which is love. In turn, let no wife reproach her husband, saying: “You don’t love me. You never show it.” Let her notice his little, embarrassed ways of showing love for her and then let her reveal sincere pleasure at this and also voice appreciation of this, to enhance his happiness. The common possession of the truth and the likeness of their dedications to God and their hope of gaining life together everlastingly in the new world ought to provoke a sympathy and love between them. This will help so much amid the difficulties of married life today.
11. (a) What does God’s Word require of wives, and in what has failure to do so resulted? (b) What is the purpose of all Scriptural advice to married couples?
11 Let the wife show deep respect for her husband, acknowledging him as her married head. (1 Cor. 11:3) “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife as the Christ also is head of the congregation, he being a savior of this body. In fact, as the congregation is in subjection to the Christ, so let wives also be to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:21-24, NW; also Titus 2:3-5) Besides this example of the Christian congregation toward Jesus Christ, the Christian wife has the still loftier example of the subjection and obedience of the universal organization of God toward the Lord Jehovah. (Isa. 54:5, AS) It is interesting for a wife to note the recommendations of March 20, 1956, of Great Britain’s third Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce. Among the factors that it listed as contributing to the rising divorce rate in Britain was “the new position of women as equals rather than inferiors in marriage partnerships.” It is only reasonable to expect that the ignoring of God’s all-wise arrangement for human marriage would lead to trouble and the wrecking of more and more marriages. The purpose of all the advice of God’s Word to married couples is, not only to guide them in making their life together more enjoyable and helpful toward gaining eternal life, but also to keep them living together, to help them avoid divorce.—New York Times, March 21, 1956.
DISSOLUTION GROUNDS: LEGAL AND SCRIPTURAL
12, 13. (a) Upon what various grounds do the laws of man allow divorce? (b) But what did Jesus say was the sole valid ground?
12 By the laws of states and nations today divorce is granted on a number of grounds. Persons who have lost or killed their love for their marriage mate try to grab hold of whatever legal grounds they can to break the marriage tie, such as mental cruelty, laziness, refusal of conjugal rights, drunkenness, insanity, incurable disease, desertion or abandonment, barrenness, sodomy, bestiality, criminality, incompatibility, change of one’s religion, and so on, besides adultery. But are all these legal grounds Scripturally right, valid for the Christian? Jesus Christ is Jehovah’s Counselor for us. The Jewish Pharisees once tested him with this question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every kind of grounds?” Jesus did not answer those questioners by referring to the Roman Caesar’s laws concerning divorce. He referred to the superior law of the Most High God and showed there is but one ground for divorce—adultery or moral unfaithfulness.
13 “In reply he said: ‘Did you not read that he who created them at the beginning made them male and female and said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh”? So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.’ They said to him: ‘Why, then, did Moses prescribe giving a certificate of dismissal and divorcing her?’ He said to them: ‘Moses, out of regard for your hardheartedness, made the concession to you of divorcing your wives, but such has not been the case from the beginning. I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except on the grounds of fornication and marries another commits adultery.’” (Matt. 19:3-9, NW) “When again in the house the disciples began to question him concerning this. And he said to them: ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if ever a woman, after divorcing her husband, marries another, she commits adultery.’” (Mark 10:10-12, NW) “Everyone that divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he that marries a woman divorced from a husband commits adultery.”—Luke 16:18, NW.
14, 15. Adultery results in what sin against one’s own body, and how does God’s Word regard an adulterer?
14 Adultery is unloving and is a breaking of God’s commandment. (Rom. 13:8-10; Ex. 20:14; Acts 21:25) The adulterer is already married and yoked together as one flesh with his legal mate. But adultery is a putting apart what God has yoked together. The adulterer pulls away from his legal mate and makes himself one flesh with a third person. Three do not make one flesh, but two do become one flesh. A person’s being one flesh must be with only one other, not with two others or more. Addressing himself to anointed Christians who were members of Christ’s spiritual body or congregation, the apostle Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I, then, take the members of the Christ away and make them members of a harlot? Never may that happen! What! Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For, ‘The two,’ says he, ‘will be one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee from fornication. Every other sin which a man may commit is outside his body, but he that practices fornication is sinning against his own body. What! Do you not know that the body of you people is the temple of the holy spirit within you which you have from God?”—1 Cor. 6:15-19, NW.
15 Many of those here addressed were married persons. Having sexual connection with their married mates was not taking them away from membership in Christ’s body, for one’s wife is one’s own flesh and one is uniting with what is one’s own. But when married Christians commit adultery or single Christians commit fornication, even with a religious temple prostitute, they do something of which God and Christ do not approve. They are taking their bodies that belong to Christ and becoming one flesh with a sinner, a fornicator or a harlot. When committing adultery or fornicating, a Christian sins against his own body. He is misusing it, contrary to his owner Christ. The adulterous Christian also sins against his wife, who is properly one flesh with him. He is breaking his unity with her, thus hurting himself, hating himself because he hates his wife whose flesh he rejects. An anointed Christian cannot take himself as a member of Christ’s body and make himself “one flesh” with an illegal person, a fornicator or a fornicatrix, a harlot, for Jesus has no connection or oneness with such an unclean person. Unless the Christian repents and reforms from his immoral course he shows he prefers union, not with Christ, but with the immoral person, and hence he ceases to be in union with Christ. He is not one in spirit with Christ. He ceases to be part of the virgin class that is espoused to Christ. A confirmed adulterer or fornicator is no Christian. He is no witness of Jehovah. Jehovah God does not make adulterers or fornicators his witnesses.—1 Cor. 5:11-13.
16. What only breaks the marriage union, and, therefore, what kind of divorce does not free one for remarriage?
16 Since this uniting sexually with an illegal person makes a married person one flesh with someone outside the marriage union, it is only adultery that really breaks the marriage union, snapping the yoke with which God has made the married couple one flesh. Therefore Jesus said that only adultery is the ground that God allows for divorce. Unless adultery has broken the yoke of marriage, a divorce would not be proper or would not really take effect before God. Divorce courts of this world, when decreeing a divorce on grounds other than adultery, are not actually putting apart what God has bound together. The divorced persons are still one flesh with each other, still man and wife. Thus neither one is free to remarry, for to remarry would mean to commit adultery. A man who divorces his wife on unadulterous grounds exposes her to adultery by a remarriage and also exposes himself in a like way. A man who marries a woman not divorced for adultery by herself or by her husband commits adultery with her, uniting himself with flesh that still belongs to another man.
17. (a) Why is a widow or a widower free to remarry? (b) What may persons declared legal widows or widowers do, yet what responsibility must they accept?
17 Death dissolves a marriage. A widower or widow is therefore free to remarry. “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is alive; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law of her husband. So, then, while her husband is living, she would be styled an adulteress if she became another man’s. But if her husband dies, she is free from his law, so that she is not an adulteress if she becomes another man’s.” (Rom. 7:2, 3, NW) One’s husband or wife may be known to be dead through war or a catastrophe but may not happen to be registered as dead or the records may not be at hand to verify the death. Or one’s marriage mate may disappear and be absent so long that the law of the land pronounces him dead. By this a person is legally declared a widower or widow. Such a one may conscientiously remarry. By remarrying he takes upon himself the responsibility for the outcome, and he must live in full submission to the new obligations. God knows the actual facts and he judges in accordance with them, and he determines whether the remarried person is suitable for life in the new world or not. If a mate legally declared dead should put in appearance again and want his legal mate restored to him, the matter would have to be straightened out legally. Under such circumstances anyone marrying a person only legally declared a widower or widow is taking a risk or chance and must be willing to face any turn of events.
IMPOTENCE, UNCLEANNESS, INSANITY, CHANGE OF RELIGION
18. (a) How do God’s law and man’s laws differ regarding impotence as a ground for divorce? (b) Regarding artificial insemination?
18 The Rabbinical law of the Jews laid emphasis on the duty of the marital act. It allowed the wife to divorce her husband who, because of his physical disability, was unable to give her this due for a period of six months. Likewise a husband could divorce his wife because of her inability to produce children. But mere impotence on the husband’s part Jesus did not recognize as a ground for divorce. The wedding procedure that has legally been carried out before witnesses made the marriage both binding and valid, just as it did for Adam and Eve in Eden. Where a man is impotent today the married couple in their desire for children might agree for the wife to receive the seed of another man by artificial insemination. Some law courts have already held that artificial insemination is adultery and that children produced by such means are illegitimate. The recent British Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce recommended as a ground for divorce the wife’s acceptance of artificial insemination by a donor of seed without her husband’s consent. Such a divorce would be Scriptural. But where the husband consented it would be grounds for the disfellowshiping of both man and wife. Why? Because it is a virtual committing of adultery, and both man and wife consented to the immoral act. The husband in effect gave her to another man to receive the seed of copulation, and the wife gave herself to a man not her husband to become the mother of a child by that other man with whom she was not one flesh. It is an adulterous course, and the fact that the husband adopts the child does not do away with the fact that he consented to the adulterous use of his wife.—Lev. 15:16-18, 32, 33; 19:20; Num. 5:12, 13, NW.
19. What Scriptural examples show barrenness is not a ground for divorce?
19 Neither is a wife’s barrenness a true ground for divorce. Because of her barrenness for many years, even up to more than twenty-five years, Abraham did not divorce Sarah, nor Isaac Rebekah, nor Jacob Rachel, nor the priest Zechariah Elizabeth.* The sons of Noah did not divorce their wives for barrenness during all the years that the ark was under construction and until two years after the flood. (Gen. 6:18; 11:10) Nor did Jehovah divorce his “woman,” his universal organization, because of her barrenness or failure to bring forth the Messiah for more than four thousand years.—Isa. 54:1-13.
20. (a) How does God’s Word regard filthy sex perversions? (b) Yet why are these no valid grounds for divorce with purpose of remarriage?
20 Sodomy (or the unnatural intercourse of one male with another male as with a female), Lesbianism (or the homosexual relations between women), and bestiality (or the unnatural sexual relations by man or woman with an animal) are not Scriptural grounds for divorce. They are filthy, they are unclean, and God’s law to Israel condemned to death those committing such misdeeds, thus drastically putting these out of God’s congregation. But such acts are not adultery with the opposite sex, making the unclean person one flesh with another of the opposite sex. (Rom. 1:26-32) Yet there is a penalty of disfellowshiping attached to them. They will keep a Christian out of the heavenly kingdom and out of God’s new world, and that means being destroyed like beasts from all future life. “The minding of the flesh means death,” it “means enmity with God, for it is not under subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be. So those who are in harmony with the flesh cannot please God.” They cannot gain the prize of everlasting life from him. (Rom. 8:6-8; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21) Such filthy things by a mate may make life unbearable for the clean married person and are grounds for separation only, though some courts grant a divorce on such grounds. Such separation does not free one to remarry and enter thus into adultery. Writes Paul: “To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain single or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10, 11, NW) Only if one of the separated couple committed adultery under the stress of the separation would there be Scriptural basis for the innocent to procure a divorce and be free to remarry.
21. (a) Why are mental illnesses or incurable or loathsome physical diseases no grounds for divorce? (b) Rather, such conditions provide the opportunity for exercising what?
21 Should one’s marriage mate in the course of time go insane or contract an incurable disease or a loathsome one, this is no true basis for getting a divorce. In this case the unfortunate mate must be treated just as an injured member of one’s body or as one’s child by one’s mate. The mate should be treated with proper care, not be cut off from relationship by legal divorce. Despite the ailment the sick mate remains one flesh with the healthy one and deserves full attention and faithfulness as his own flesh. This displays love for one’s flesh and helps to lighten the terrible situation, rather than worsen it. “In this way husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no man ever hated his own flesh, but he feeds and cherishes it, as the Christ also does the congregation, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’” (Eph. 5:28-31, NW) The faithful mate will not forsake the other during illness either mental or physical. By God’s law the healthy one is not freed to do so. Naaman’s wife was not freed from him because he was a leper whose terrible disease only a miracle of Almighty God could cure. (2 Ki. 5:1-4, 8-14) At a wedding the mates usually vow to take each other for better or for worse.
22-24. (a) Why is a change or difference in religion no grounds for separation or divorce? (b) What advice does Paul give mates in such situations, and what should determine whether a Christian should leave his unbelieving mate?
22 Some law courts take as a ground for divorce the change in religion on the part of one’s mate. According to God and Christ this is not right. This law case assumes that, at marriage, both the husband and the wife were members of the same religious system, so that now the one’s change of religion creates a home difficulty on a most vital point. By adopting the new religion the one changing becomes an unbeliever toward the religion of the other mate. Though this may be a bitter experience for the mate that retains the former religion it is no real reason for him to separate from the other either by legal action or by mutual consent. On this Paul writes:
23 “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace. For, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?”—1 Cor. 7:12-16, NW.
24 So difference of religion, either from before marriage or only since getting married, is no reason why a couple should separate. It is no basis for a divorce that would free them to marry others. If the husband should believe and come into God’s truth before his wife does, he should stick to his wife if his change of religion makes no difference with her or even if she objects. The thing is, Does she want to continue living with him under the circumstances, which his accepting the truth should really make better circumstances? If she does, then he should not leave her. His staying with her gives him the opportunity to talk the truth to her, or at least live the truth before her, and possibly by this course help her to accept the truth and get salvation to life in God’s new world. This opportunity holds true also for the wife who believes the truth and still remains with her husband.
25. How does God consider the children of such marriages, and how should the believing mate treat the unbelieving one?
25 Since the unbelieving one is still “one flesh” with the believer, the unbeliever for this reason alone gains some recognition from Jehovah God. God considers their children, not as unclean, but as holy, and the believer will try to bring them up in true holiness that, at the age of understanding, they too might of their own choice dedicate themselves to God through Christ. The unbeliever is not automatically made a saint or one of God’s holy ones, but the believing mate has dedicated everything to God and treats the unbeliever from that standpoint. The sanctified believer will accordingly treat the unbeliever as God would want it to be done, and that will be all toward aiding the unbeliever to see and accept the truth and also come into relationship with God.
26. (a) What may unjust treatment make necessary, but why is this no ground for divorce with right to remarry? (b) What should be the attitude of separated mates, as noted by Laban’s words?
26 If the unbeliever does not respond to this sanctified treatment, there is still no reason to leave such one. The move toward separation must or should be taken by the unbeliever. In some cases this move may be a virtual abandonment by the unbeliever’s mistreating the believer so badly that it is practically unbearable to live together further. But, as in the case where even fellow believers might separate from each other over some disagreement, the believer must remain single until the departed unbeliever commits immorality and so provides grounds for proper divorce. (1 Cor. 7:10, 11) The believer’s attitude toward the separated mate may be like that expressed in Laban’s words to Jacob against any violation of the marriage alliance: “Let Jehovah keep watch between me and you when we are situated unseen the one from the other.” (Gen. 31:49, NW) Jehovah God watches whether there is any violating of the marriage covenant. He observes who is the guilty mate and determines whether there is Scriptural ground for divorce to free one for remarriage. This must be, not so-called “spiritual adultery,” but physical adultery.
27. Why is spiritual adultery no basis for Scriptural divorce, and why is it well for a believer to continue with an unbeliever?
27 The inspired James did write: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4, NW) But this spiritually adulterous friendship with the world is no ground for divorce. Why not? Because this mere friendship does not make anybody “one flesh” with one of the opposite sex adulterously. True, an unbeliever is a friend of this world. However, the apostle Paul did not argue from this that a believer had the right and good cause to leave the unbelieving mate. To the contrary, it was perfectly proper, and altogether moral, for them to keep living together if the unbeliever was agreeable to this. By this keeping together as a couple the unbeliever might be helped toward salvation in the new world, which help would not be possible if the two were said to be improperly living together and the believer was therefore said to be conniving at spiritual adultery by the worldling.
MERCIFUL TREATMENT OF A MATE
28. (a) Limiting divorce to adultery does not give mates what allowance? (b) How are some of man’s laws partial in contrast with God’s law?
28 Christ limited the grounds for a divorce that frees one for remarriage to adultery. This does not give either marriage mate the allowance to abuse or neglect the other. This limitation to adultery only emphasizes the divine arrangement that the married couple are one flesh, and should stick together in mutual care, come better or come worse. This is the decree of the infallible Judge of the Supreme Marriage Court. In some lands the law does not make the adulterous conduct of the husband a legal ground for the wife to divorce him, but makes only the morally loose wife the one that can be divorced for adultery. But according to God’s ruling through Christ, if the husband is immoral, it allows a woman to put him away legally and free herself for remarriage without becoming an adulteress by this action. That is why Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife [unscripturally] and marries another commits adultery against her, and if ever a woman, after divorcing her husband, marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11, 12, NW) So Jesus was not setting up for husbands a standard different from that for wives when he said in his sermon on the mountain: “Moreover it was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ However, I say to you that everyone divorcing his wife except on account of fornication makes her a subject for adultery, seeing that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt. 5:31, 32, NW) God is not partial. To him adultery by the husband is just as bad as that by the wife.
29. Why may a man not look upon a woman not his wife with the desire to have relations with her?
29 So let no husband covet another man’s wife, nor look upon any other woman with desire to have with her the relations that he owes exclusively to his wife. Let the proverbial married business executive or office man beware that he does not fall in love with his lady secretary, married or single, and take liberties with her. Jesus said: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27, 28, NW) He is already guilty in the sight of God, who reads the heart. Although this is adultery in the man’s heart and although he may not be divorced by his wife on this ground, covetousness toward someone other than one’s marriage mate, if not blocked, leads to physical adultery.
30, 31. (a) When may an innocent mate forgive the other that has sinned? (b) What course should the congregation pursue where forgiveness is granted? Where refused?
30 If one’s mate does commit adultery one has the right to forgive and not sue for divorce, provided the guilty one shows proper repentance and earnestly asks for forgiveness and promises not to repeat but be faithful to the marriage vow. If the innocent one does not forgive the offending mate, then the offender must be disfellowshiped by the congregation and the innocent mate is authorized by the Scriptures to get a legal divorce if possible or desired. This is a private matter. If, say, the husband forgives the wife, he continues to give her the marriage due, trusting in God to forgive her. Then there is no reason for the wife, whom he treats as “one flesh” with him, to be exposed and punished by the Christian congregation with disfellowshiping, thus undoing the reunion that the husband’s forgiveness has mercifully brought about. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Prov. 10:12, RS) “Have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8, NW) “My brothers, if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19, 20, NW) “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you [and admits his sin, expresses his sorrowful repentance and begs forgiveness], you have gained your brother.” If the sinner refuses to listen to even the supervisory committee of the Christian congregation of which the sinner is a member, he must be excommunicated, said Jesus.—Matt. 18:15-17, 21, 22, NW.
31 If, in imitation of God and in obedience to Christ, the husband has forgiven his repentant wife and held back from punishing her legally as he might, how has the congregation a right to punish her with excommunication and to put a spiritual barrier between the husband and his wife, whom he is trying to help reform? The congregation should co-operate in the reform effort. But, what if, before the husband decides to forgive his wife, the congregation disfellowships her? If the husband afterward forgives her for Scriptural reasons, this does not automatically lift the excommunication of her from the congregation, for the matter is now directly in the congregation’s hands. She must deal directly with the congregation’s supervisory committee and must satisfy it by taking the necessary steps to be fully taken back into the congregation. (Compare paragraph 41, last fourteen lines.) A similar handling of the matter would take place if it was the faithful wife that forgave the husband, not under any compulsion or insistence or threatening on his part, but because of his unmistakable repentance and primarily with the loving desire to help recover her husband spiritually. “The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.” (1 Cor. 7:4, NW) Consequently, during the time that she was proving the sincerity and thoroughness of his repentance and reform efforts, she would exercise a vigilance concerning his conduct and help him to keep morally and spiritually clean, fit to be associated with the Christian congregation.
32. (a) What course must the forgiving husband pursue if he does not want congregational action to follow? (b) What action should the congregation take against the one with whom the adultery was committed?
32 In the case of a faithful husband, certainly he may be expected to put his wife on probation, closely watching her and helping her to keep from repeating sin, and the congregation will rely upon him to do so. Otherwise the congregation would consider him as not presiding properly over his own household and hence not qualified to hold any responsible office with spiritual oversight in the congregation. In that case, too, the congregation would step in, because he is not conducting his home affairs in a Christian manner, and would take action against man and wife. The person with whom the adultery was committed may be a member of the congregation. If so, that person must be disfellowshiped and thus stripped of service privileges and positions and Christian fellowship. If after disfellowshipment that one shows the fruitage of repentance and seeks to get back into the congregation, that one may be reinstated and put on a long probation, for at least a year, and then, being found on good behavior, he may be formally relieved of the restrictions imposed upon him and be fully received back.—1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13; 2 Cor. 2:5-11.
33. From what suitable congregational action does the innocent one’s forgiveness not protect the guilty mate?
33 When a congregation withholds an excommunication action because of the innocent mate’s prior forgiveness, this does not mean that the guilty mate may not and should not be deprived of any special responsibilities or service privileges in the congregation. Here, not excommunication, but the qualifications for special service positions in the congregation are involved. The guilty mate, by adultery, has misrepresented the congregation and disqualified himself and should not be kept in any representative or responsible position. The innocent mate’s forgiveness does not protect the guilty mate from the congregation’s power of action to remove the disqualified person and to have in office persons above reproach and offering no stumblingblock to others.
34. What are some Israelite examples of husbands forgiving guilty wives?
34 The forgiveness of a guilty mate calls to mind the prophet Hosea, whom Jehovah instructed to take his adulterous wife back and who obediently did so. (Hos. 1:3-6; 3:1, 2) Long before that, in the days of Israel’s judges, an unnamed Levite journeyed a distance and took his adulterous concubine back, but not to prostitute her. At the Benjaminite city of Gibeah he turned her loose to the mob that stormed the house where he was lodging. But he did not put her at the mob’s mercy because he failed to love her. He did so only to prevent his sacred office as a Levite from being profaned by forced sodomy or effeminacy. He did not approve of the mob’s violation of his wife or concubine. Indignantly he made it an issue that he put before the whole nation of Israel. He provoked the shocked eleven tribes of Israel to punish the guilty city and the tribe of Benjamin by a war that almost brought the wiping out of the guilty tribe. This vindicated the other eleven brother tribes as being upholders of the purity of the nation.—Judges, chapters 19 and 20.
35. In the case of the Corinthian brother who committed fornication with his father’s wife, what consideration may have induced Paul to order only the guilty man to be excommunicated?
35 In the adultery case handled by the apostle Paul, at 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Paul ordered only the man guilty of fornication put out of the congregation as a leavenlike poisonous influence. If the woman was a member of the congregation, why did not Paul, with his apostolic authority, also order the congregation to disfellowship the equally guilty woman in the case? She was the wife of the guilty man’s father, and the apostle Paul would respect the treatment that the husband might extend his guilty wife. Consequently it was only the repentant man that Paul later on recommended to be reinstated by the congregation and saved from Satan’s designs.
36. Why may not financial damages be taken for adultery?
36 This forgiveness of a marriage mate that repents is radically different from letting a wife commit adultery and then collecting what is called “woman damages” from her violator. Some polygamists keep a number of concubines for the express purpose of prostituting them, just to collect “woman damages” over and over again on the same concubine. This is worse than prostituting one’s own daughter. (Lev. 19:29, NW) If a person forgivingly takes an erring mate back again it should be without collecting such damages. Taking the financial damages condones the adultery and makes commerce of it. Forgiving the guilty and seeking no financial damages keeps the innocent one clean. It makes him appreciate more the sinfulness of the unclean course rather than the commercial profit possible by the wicked prostituting of a wife.
37. What may those do who, before coming into the truth, remarried after an unscriptural divorce, and why?
37 Before coming to a knowledge of God’s truth and his requirements a person might have legally divorced his mate on unscriptural grounds and then remarried. If this person is now holding onto the new marriage and accepts the Kingdom message, the Christian congregation cannot do anything about altering his marriage estate. It must accept him in the civil status in which God’s message finds him, trusting in God’s forgiveness of his wrongdoings before he knew better, his sins of ignorance. But the Christian congregation must require that he be found living true to his obligations in his second legal marriage. Otherwise, it could not believe that his dedication to God was accepted and it could not grant him any baptism in water.
38. If a Christian wishes to divorce an unfaithful dedicated mate what should the congregation first do?
38 If a married Christian commits adultery, the Christian mate may want to divorce. However, in order to bring no unnecessary reproach upon Jehovah’s people by the unclean unfaithfulness of one of his witnesses, the Christian congregation should first excommunicate the unfaithful member. Then the clean, innocent mate can take public court proceedings against the unfaithful as one who is now not a member of the congregation, not one of Jehovah’s witnesses. Thus the theocratic organization suffers no public shame.
39, 40. (a) If an unscriptural divorce is obtained what must the congregation observe regarding the divorced ones and when must it take action? (b) Why does repentance after an unscriptural divorce not free anyone for remarriage?
39 All in all, it is the duty of the Christian congregation to take note of the basic reason for a divorce by a member or by a married couple of the congregation. If the reason is unscriptural, the congregation must observe the course of the divorced afterward. The immorality cause of a divorce may not always be stated in the petition for divorce or in the judicial decree. In some lands the reason for the grant of divorce may be stated as injures graves et publiques (“serious and public injuries”). Nearly always this means adultery; however, to protect innocent ones who could be affected by reproach or public embarrassment, the ground for divorce may be worded thus. The congregation should inform itself of the specific reason. It cannot excommunicate any member just for divorcing on unscriptural grounds, but if that member remarries before the death or immorality of the divorced mate, the congregation would disfellowship this member for adulterous remarriage.
40 When a Christian merely asks God’s forgiveness for the course he has taken in unscripturally divorcing his mate, it does not free him to remarry. His being forgiven his sins in general does not cancel or annul the legal marriage that was dissolved on unscriptural grounds. It does not change his married status. If it did, then the divorcer of another on unscriptural grounds would not be committing adultery by remarrying. Remember this: a marriage broken up by unscriptural divorce either before or after one dedicates oneself to God is not really dissolved in God’s sight by asking for his forgiveness of sins; any more so than God’s forgiveness of the sins of a criminal in prison would cancel his prison sentence and free him to walk out the prison gates at will. Hence remarriage without Scriptural permission or authorization is adulterous and the congregation will disfellowship the offender. Likewise, if a Christian married a worldly person that was divorced on unscriptural grounds, that Christian is committing fornication and should be disfellowshiped.—Rom. 7:2-4; 1 Cor. 7:39.
41. (a) What does an improper remarriage do for the innocent party that remains single? (b) What action must be taken toward the party improperly remarrying, and from what would such a party be barred ever after?
41 An improper remarriage will make a divorce effective and will free the innocent party to continue in the congregation and to remarry if that innocent one chooses to do so. However, the one improperly remarrying must be disfellowshiped as committing adultery, and thus comes into a dangerous condition that threatens his eternal existence. “He who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself.” (Prov. 6:32, RS) Only reinstatement can save him. But the unscripturally remarried person may not be fully taken back into the congregation on mere repentance. He, after reinstatement, must be subject to a sufficiently long period of probation, at least a year, to let him show the fruits of a sincere repentance together with a right respect for marriage. His legal remarriage still holds good before the law of the land and must have proper legal grounds in order to be dissolved in court. Even if his former, unscripturally divorced wife should die or remarry after he did, he is not thereby automatically reinstated. He must still repent, confess, make application for reinstatement and submit to the probation period. If the repentance bears the required fruitage of a proper fulfillment of his obligations in the new legal marriage and if then he is fully readmitted to the congregation, he is ever after disqualified from holding any official, exemplary, responsible office or privilege in the congregation. His private past in the truth is not a good example.
42. Why are those who uphold the divinely imposed obligations of marriage happy?
42 Marriage true and clean is a privilege from Jehovah God. He himself arranged it, and “there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Ps. 92:15, AS) Happy are the Christians that are faithful to the divinely imposed obligations of their marriage. They uphold the true dignity and honorableness of this divine institution. They take to heart the Christian commandment: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Heb. 13:4, NW) They enjoy not primarily the pleasures of the fleshly relationship but chiefly the spiritual opportunities that this close union of the two sexes affords them. This fulfills the idealness of marriage and earns God’s approval and blessing. It makes wedlock a help toward gaining salvation and serving the Most High God. It vindicates Jehovah God in lovingly instituting this provision for man’s joy and for fulfilling the divine purpose.