“If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
Are we saved by keeping the Old Testament Law? By keeping the commandments?
In our earlier installments on this chapter, we pointed out that if all we had on the subject of divorce were these words–especially Matthew 19:9–we would conclude that anyone divorcing “without cause” is an adulterer, the only remedy for which would be another divorce. However, no scripture is of private interpretation, the Bible itself says, meaning among other things that we should not build our doctrine on one verse in isolation. Take the full teaching of Scripture on a subject.
And we tried to point out that the whole of Scripture makes it clear that a sin forgiven is gone forever, and adulterers are no longer such when the benefits of Calvary are applied. “Such were some of you,” says I Corinthians 6:11. A most blessed phrase!
In the same way, if our Lord’s instructions to the “rich young ruler” were all we had on the subject of the Old Testament Law, we would gravitate to His saying “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17) and be sentenced to a lifetime of endless frustration in our attempts to do something that cannot be done. But we have the rest of the Lord’s teachings as well as the epistles to the Romans and Galatians. And of course, we have the 15th chapter of Acts where that very question was on the table before the church leaders.
To keep our discussion here brief–always a good idea but one which I struggle with at times!–I want to reference just one Old Testament text which knocks this out of the park.
“But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
In Matthew 19, the Lord touched on two difficult issues with which His church has struggled and contended ever since: Does divorce exclude people from usefulness in the kingdom? Do the saved have to keep the Law?
He addressed the first subject with the Pharisees while His disciples were listening in (19:1-12). The second subject He addressed to a man identified as “a rich young ruler,” but again, overheard by the disciples.
Are divorced and lawbreakers excluded? (Part III will take up the second question, the matter of the Law.)
Before moving on, let’s revisit the subject of adultery and adulterous remarriages. I feel a need to add a word or two.
First, the text. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
That appears pretty open and shut. But it isn’t.
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).
Most SBC churches I know have in their bylaws a statement that divorce disqualifies a church member from being considered as a pastor or a deacon. I’m suggesting we need to start believing God’s word and quit making divorce the unpardonable sin.
The qualifications for deacons are found in I Timothy 3:8-13. Verse 12 says, “Husband of one wife.” The “one wife” business, of course, has been interpreted in a dozen ways, everything from a deacon must be married (no unmarried person, whether single or widowed, can be a deacon), to no divorced person at all (no matter how many years ago and what kind of record of faithfulness you have achieved over the decades; sorry, Charlie!), to no in a polygamous relationship, and so forth. On a related subject, some churches have women deacons because, while verse 11 says “the women also”–traditionally interpreted to mean wives of deacons–no similar statement is given in I Timothy 3:1-7 where qualifications for pastors are found. If verse 11 refers to the deacons’ wives there should be something earlier about pastors’ wives. But there isn’t. So many a church has decided verse 11 is referring to women deacons. (Argue all you wish, but Paul is not here to tell us what he had in mind.)
The point is: Since these verses are not clear, faithful brothers and sisters in Christ interpret them in various ways.
So, why then do our churches so consistently insist that I Timothy 3:12 prohibits a divorced person from becoming a deacon?