John Piper on Divorce and Remarriage

John Piper on Divorce and Remarriage April 11, 2024

Some Christians are still against remarriage following divorce  in most or all circumstances.  In this quote Piper holds a firm position, but explains how he believes that should be handled in a compassionate way, and what he feels a Christian who has been re-married should do.  I do really like the fact that he acknowledges also that there is a wide range of views on this matter among true Christians today.

Another helpful thing about this quote is his understanding of just how painful and difficult divorce is, stating that it is often more painful even than the death of a spouse.  Almost no Christian will choose to get divorced lightly and easily.  It really ought to be the last resort. Keller describes it like an amputation. , and most Christians are well aware of that when they decide to get divorced.

Finally Piper acknowledges that God can turn around situations that are less than ideal into a real blessing, which in itself brings hope, something which often is hard to come by in the aftermath of divorce.

Many of us might feel that Piper’s closing five arguments are actually mostly arguments justifying that divorce and remarriage should be acceptable in certain circumstances.  After all Moses allowed for divorce and presumably remarriage because of the weakness of humans, so wouldn’t grace require a similar approach? Piper sees it differently but holds up nonetheless an opportunity for redemption:

Did Jesus make provision for his disciples to divorce and remarry? Are there situations in which he would sanction this? There is no consensus on the answer to this question today among his followers. I want to say clearly from the beginning that I am aware that men more godly than I have taken different views than the one I will give here. I do not claim to have seen or said the last word on this issue, nor am I, I pray, above correction should I prove to be wrong. What follows is an attempt to show why I believe Jesus considered the marriage covenant breakable only by death and therefore forbade remarriage while a spouse is living.

I realize that simply saying this will feel devastating to some, adding more misery to the injury of what they did not want to happen. Divorce is painful. It is often more emotionally wrenching than the death of a spouse. It is often long years in coming and long years in the settlement and in the adjustment. The upheaval of life is immeasurable. The sense of failure and guilt and fear can torture the soul. Like the psalmist, night after night a spouse falls asleep with tears (Ps. 6:6). Work performance is hindered. People draw near or withdraw with uncertain feelings. Loneliness can be overwhelming. A sense of a devastated future can be all-consuming. Courtroom controversy compounds the personal misery.

And then there is often the agonizing place of children. Parents hope against hope that the scars will not cripple them or ruin their own marriages someday. Tensions over custody and financial support deepen the wounds. And then the awkward and artificial visitation rights can lengthen the tragedy over decades.

Because of these and many other factors, people with sensitive hearts weep with those who weep. They try not to increase the pain. And sometimes this care is confused with compromise. People think that loving care is incompatible with confrontation—that the tenderness of Jesus and the toughness of his demands cannot both be love. But surely this is not right . . .

What then would Jesus expect from one of his followers who has sinned and is divorced and remarried? He would expect us to acknowledge that the choice to remarry and the act of entering a second marriage was sin and to confess it as such and seek forgiveness. He would also expect that we not separate from our present spouse. I base this on at least five observations.

First, Jesus seemed to regard multiple marriages as wrong but real. He said to the woman at the well in John 4:18, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” She is living with a man now, but there has been no marriage—no covenant-making. The others he calls “husbands,” but the one she is with now is not her husband.

Second, Jesus knew that Deuteronomy 24:4 spoke against going back to a first husband after marrying a second. He did not go out of his way to qualify this provision.

Third, covenant-keeping is crucial to Jesus . . . therefore, even though the current covenant is adulterous in the making, it is real and should be kept. Its beginning in sin does not have to mean that it is continuously sinful and without hope of purification.

Fourth, there are illustrations of God taking acts of disobedience and turning the result into God-ordained plans. One example . . . would be the sinful marriage of David to Bathsheba. The adultery with her, the murder of her husband, and the marriage “displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). So the Lord took the life of the first child of this union (2 Sam. 12:15, 18). But the second child, Solomon, “the Lord loved” and chose him as ruler over his people (2 Sam. 12:24).

Fifth, through repentance and forgiveness on the basis of the blood of Jesus and through the sanctifying work of the promised Holy Spirit, a marriage that was entered sinfully can be consecrated to God, purified from sin, and become a means of grace. It remains less than ideal, but it is not a curse. It may become a great blessing.

Piper, J. (2006). What Jesus demands from the world (pp. 304–322). Crossway Books.

 

Piper also wrote a detailed position paper for Bethlehem Baptist church together with his other elders.  This states:

Divorce may be permitted when a spouse deserts the relationship, commits adultery, or is dangerously abusive (1 Cor. 7:15; Matthew 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:11)  . . . After serious efforts have been made toward reconciliation the aggrieved partners  . . .may, together with the leadership of the church, come to regard their marriages as irreparably broken. In such cases remarriage may be a legitimate step, if taken with serious reckoning that this cuts off all possibility of a reconciliation that God may yet be willing to produce.

This guideline is for some of us the hardest concession to make . . . while the spouse is still unmarried and alive reconciliation is still Biblically possible. This makes it very hard for some of us to condone a step that decisively cuts asunder what God meant to be permanent and which could yet be permanent (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

Others of us believe that 1 Corinthians 7:15 (“If the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so, in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.”) gives freedom to a Christian to remarry if abandoned. We also believe that denying remarriage puts an unwarranted strain on the chastity of the divorced person who may not believe he or she has the gift of celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:7).

But we all agree that serious efforts should be made at reconciliation, including the intervention of the church if necessary, before any aggrieved spouse is resigned to singleness or is free to remarry . . . Persons remarried after divorce will forego positions of official leadership at Bethlehem which correspond to the role of elders or deacons (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).

Bethelem Baptist Church Position Statement

 

What is interesting about Piper’s position is that he on the one hand personally does not believe remarriage should happen after divorce, but recognising the fact others have different views, he took a more relaxed view in his church. Considering the fact that this statement was written back in 1989, this was probably quite progressive at the time among conservative Evangelicals.

One of the other Bethlehem Baptist elders has published a detailed paper showing why he believes divorce and remarriage should be more broadly allowed. He says:

While it is a serious error to permit what God forbids, it is also wrong to forbid what God permits. To insist that (a) initiating a divorce is never legitimate or (b) remarriage after divorce is never legitimate or (c) a divorced/remarried man is automatically disqualified to be an elder is to forbid what God sometimes permits. READ MORE 

It is also appropriate to note that John Piper has a son Barnabas who has written and spoken publicly about his divorce, and subsequent remarriage.  Barnabas’ instagram post shows that his father attended his second marriage, and I am glad to see that whatever their differing views on this subject, they were able to joyfully share in the day together.  A long form YouTube video interview with Barnabas is also available on YouTube.

Piper’s church refuses to allow anyone remarried for any reason to become an elder or deacon, however.  This would surely have the effect of making anyone in that position feel like they are a second class citizen. I respect Piper hugely and am grateful for his efforts here to offer grace and hope, but the problem with this kind of half way house is surely it could lead to a half way restoration where someone who has remarried is allowed to be part of a church but not to exercise their God given ministry.

Piper’s statements does sound to me like a pause point along a journey which began with the Reformers, rather than a final destination.  But it does its best to hold views of different Christians in tension and mutual respect, which is admirable.

Piper is clear that once someone has entered into a second marriage they should stay in it and that God can redeem even a marriage wrongly entered into.  If God can restore us from any sin that definitely includes restoring any marriage even if sin was involved in starting it he explains this more elsewhere:

If you are divorced and remarried, keep your promise. Don’t break your word a second time . . .

If the marriage that you are in was entered wrongfully, you shouldn’t have entered it. Should you stay in it? That is the question. And my answer is: Yes. Repent honestly before God to each other and to him. Admit it should not have happened. Ask for forgiveness from each other and from God, perhaps from former spouses. And then keep your promises that you made to each other when you made your vows, rather than a second time breaking your word . . .  a vow you make to a person to be their husband or their wife till death do you part is not something to be taken lightly . . .

Jesus talked to the woman at the well in terms that suggest pretty strongly that he believed she had five genuine husbands and one non-genuine live-in . . . (John 4:16–18)

Now, think about that. What does that imply? … if Jesus is willing to call wrongfully entered relationships marriages, then it seems to me that we should hold people to the expectations of holiness and permanence implied in the word marriage, till death do us part.
READ MORE. 

 

 


Many years of sermons by John Piper  are available in Logos Bible Software, which is how I found this quote. You can also own sermons preached by John Stott    and  Tim Keller among others.  Sermons by great preachers are a great addition to your Logos library because using the Passage Guide you can easily find what they preached on a verse you are looking at. Perhaps the best of all is Spurgeon’s massive sermon collection – the best way to get those is as part of the Logos 10 Baptist Silver Collection or above.  

If you do not yet have this wonderful Bible Study tool or you are due an upgrade, readers of this blog get a 10% discount.  

Some of my other favourite resources for Logos include Lloyd-Jones outstanding books on Ephesians and on The Sermon on the Mount.  These are affiliate links.


 

READ MORE

How to Reduce Divorce Stigma in Church

Christian views on Divorce and Remarriage: A Spectrum

Tim Keller on Divorce and Remarriage

The Reformers on Divorce and Remarriage

Men and woman CAN be friends: retiring the Billy Graham rule

 

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