Sermon: “Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage” (1 Corinthians 7:10–16)

by Sep 29, 2019Sermons0 comments

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:10-16, ESV

Let me start this morning with an observation about marriage. Marriage is simple, but it’s not easy. To put this another way, marriage is difficult, but it is not complex. By saying that marriage is simple but not complex, the point that I am trying to make is that marriage is the most clearly defined relationship of any relationship that we have in the world. The duties and the obligations of marriage are abundantly clear in Scripture. Marriage is to be a one flesh, covenant of faithfulness between one man and one woman for life.

Any influence, pursuit, or anything at all in this world that interferes with you and your spouse, if you are married, you need to get rid of. The most important relationship you have in this world is with your spouse. Anything that messes with that has to go.

The perfect clarity of our obligations in terms of marriage are what make marriage so difficult and so not easy. While it is so clear that marriage is supposed to be the most important relationship in this world, it is easier said than done. It is hard to live out in a lot of different relationships and different circumstances and a lot of different times.

That’s what the apostle Paul is picking up right here. He’s dealing with questions about marriage. About people that understand that in some sense that marriage is supposed to be so important in this world. In this world the relationship of a parent and a child, we are told in Genesis 2:24, is supposed to give way in some sense to the marriage relationship.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.Genesis 2:24, ESV

But the people say, “I get all of that, but I’m in Christ now. I’m a Christian. I also know, Paul, that that is supposed to be the most important relationship above every human relationship. So, if I am in Christ, how does the gospel affect my marriage? Especially if I happen to be married to an unbeliever?” Just to be clear, I am not; my wife is a believer. But speaking hypothetically from the perspective of the Corinthians, that’s the question that’s posed by them.

Paul is in the middle of giving instructions to different classes of people. In verses eight and nine, he deals with the unmarried and widows. In verses ten and eleven, he deals with those who are married to other believers. In verses twelve through sixteen he is dealing with those who are married to unbelievers. Those are the different situations and circumstances that Paul is dealing with. Paul is telling them what God’s requirement is for them in their marriage.

Does the gospel disrupt even our marriages? Paul says no. Our big idea today is this, God sanctifies marriage and God sanctifies through marriage.

The word sanctified comes up a little later in this passage. The word sanctified simply means to make someone or something holy. To put it in a special set apart relationship to the Lord in one way or another.

We are going to see this in three parts today.

  1. Command: Don’t Separate from Your Spouse
  2. Promise: God will Sanctify Your Family
  3. Exhortation: Seek the Salvation of Your Spouse.

Don’t Separate from Your Spouse

10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11, ESV

One of the initial questions that we have to ask is what the difference between separation and divorce is. These are two different words that describe the same reality, but in one case from the perspective of a wife and in the other case from the perspective of a husband. In those days, divorce wasn’t the formal legal proceedings that it is in ours. It’s not a mountain of lawyers and paperwork to annual a civil set up in the eyes of the state. In those days, a woman divorced by simply leaving him. A man divorced by sending away his wife. Sometimes there would be a formal document given to ratify that the divorce was final. But in many times, one was not given, and divorce just happened sadly.

What Paul is saying here is whatever is happening here, marriage is supposed to be this lifelong covenantal communion between one man and one woman in a one flesh. So, any separation or divorce is forbidden. So, Paul says, this isn’t something I’m telling you, this is the Lord’s command. “Not I, but the Lord” say this to you. Specifically, he’s talking about the Lord Jesus. He’s reminding them that while Jesus was here on earth, he had much to say about earthly marriage. You can look up what Jesus has to say about marriage in Matthew 5:31-32, in Mark 10:2-12, in Luke 16:18, but perhaps the fullest expression of Jesus’ teaching on marriage we see in Matthew 19:3-19.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:3-9, ESV

We see three principles of what Jesus teaches.

  1. The principle against divorce arises from a one flesh union that God created for marriage. In the beginning, God created them male and female and intended that they would become one flesh.

  2. The principle that Moses only gave divorce as a concession. This isn’t a feature of marriage; this is a violation of marriage. It’s a concession because of the hardness of their hearts, but in the beginning, it was not so.

  3. The principle that there is one case where divorce is permissible. It’s in the case of sexual immorality or adultery. What Jesus is explaining is that in cases of adultery, there is a one flesh covenant and the one who commits adultery violates that. So, for the innocent party to sue out of the marriage by pursuing divorce is not to violate the one flesh covenant of marriage because it’s already been broken. So that is the one exception in which divorce is permitted by our Lord

Paul is saying that I’m not the one telling you this, you heard this from Jesus himself. But notice that what Jesus says is all about what the man should do. Paul here is now applying this to women. He’s taking the teaching of Jesus toward men and saying there’s not an escape clause if you’re a woman. He’s just applying the same principles to women. So even if the woman does separate, verse eleven, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.

Whether husbands or wives are separating, realize that if you are a believer intent on following the law of God as required for us in marriage, then that means that there is no place of divorce, except for cases of sexual immorality. That’s very clear. It’s very simple. This is not complex. The rules and what God communicates to us about marriage are absolutely clear.

This is what makes it so hard, this is so difficult sometimes. Sometimes when our sin starts looking on the other spouse as a problem, if we don’t check it, it can grow to a place where it festers and we begin to think, “I don’t think God would mean that I’m not allowed to get a divorce. God would not want me to stay in this situation” Both Jesus and Paul affirm the exact same thing, which is that this is categorically false. The only grounds for divorce are adultery.

It’s a very straight forward doctrine of marriage, but then Paul encounters another question. Maybe it was posed by the Corinthians or he’s just trying to explain more fully the situation. The question is this, what if my spouse is an unbeliever? For example, think about the case where there are two idol worshippers in Corinth who are worshipping Greek gods and offering sacrifices in the temple. Then one of the spouses hears the good news of Jesus Christ. He or she believes it and trusts in Jesus and realizes that they can’t go back to worshipping the foreign gods.

What should that person do? Should that person remain in his or her marriage? Should the believer remain in the marriage to a person who continues to worship idols? Will the unbelieving spouse defile the believer? If so, is the believer compelled to depart to protect his or her own holiness? Later on, in 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul will give them a general principle, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Should you remain with an unbeliever if that bad company is going to corrupt your good character? Are you in danger?

Paul says no, you’re not in danger. Yes, you must stay in your marriage if the other person consents.

God will Sanctify Your Family

We come to a promise that God will sanctify your family if you are a believer. In verses twelve through fourteen Paul says,

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:12-14, ESV

Paul is saying that these are his words. Jesus didn’t explicitly teach on this. Does that mean that what Paul is about to say is not authoritative? Absolutely not, it is authoritative. We believe that all of the Bible is the authoritative word of God, breathed out by the Holy Spirit. Not only the red letters spoken by Jesus, but all of the Bible is the authoritative work of God. What Paul is saying is that Jesus did not have occasion to teach on this. Jesus himself told us that he did not have occasion to teach on everything he wanted them to know. Right before Jesus went to his death on the cross, during that last meeting with his disciples in the upper room, in John 16 Jesus says this,

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16:12-15, ESV

In one sense Jesus did not teach on this, this is not the Lord’s command. In another sense what Jesus tells us is that whatever is the Father’s is mine and after I depart the Holy Spirit will take whatever is mine and declare it to you. This is Jesus’ commandment given through the teaching of the apostle Paul.

What is the issue here in 1 Corinthians 7:12-14? This may not strike us as that big of an issue. What’s the problem Paul? Why are people so tied up in knots about this? Paul is dealing with two really important questions. Will my unbelieving spouse defile me in some sense? Will my unbelieving spouse defile my children? Those are the two concerns.

If you are familiar with your Old Testament, you know that the answer to both of those questions the answer to both of those questions is yes. Your unbelieving spouse will defile you and your children. That’s the answer given to us in the old covenant in the Old Testament.

It’s a very different answer that Paul is about to give about the new covenant. Let’s first understand what is happening in the old covenant first. Under the old covenant holiness was such a fragile thing, whatever was set apart to the Lord as holy was easily defiled if it came into contact with something that was unclean. On the other hand, if you came into contact with something that was holy, or set apart for the Lord, would not make you clean. This is all over the Old Testament, but especially in Leviticus. In Haggai 2:11-13 there’s a short summary of this idea.

11 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: 12 ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” 13 Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”Haggai 2:11-13, ESV

If you come in contact with holiness, an object or person that has been set apart for service to the Lord, just by coming into contact with that holy thing will not make you holy. On the other hand, you may be unclean and if so, you may defile the holy thing.

In the cases of marriages, one of the things that God had prohibited was for his people to marry foreign peoples. They were not allowed to give their daughters to foreign peoples and they were not allowed to take daughters of foreign peoples for their sons in marriage. Why? It’s because God was so concerned about preserving the holiness of his people. If they began intermarrying with the surrounding nations, they would begin worshipping the gods of the other nations.

This was problem throughout the old covenant. Eventually it became so bad that God had to send his people into exile because of their idolatries. Finally, when God relented and brought his people of Judah back into the land and they were settling in there. We read in the book of Ezra that Ezra is a priest who goes in to teach the law of God among the people who are recently resettled back into the land of Judah. As he’s teaching the law it comes to his attention that already the people had begun to intermarry with foreign women.

This is such a terrible thing, there’s this time of mourning as they are standing out in the pouring rain weeping for their sins of marrying foreign people. This situation is so bad that collectively they decide that all of these wives must be put away. They must all be sent back to their people. They must divorce these women because it would defile them if they stay married to them. If you’ve read the Old Testament you say, okay if I’m married to a foreign woman, I’ve got to divorce her. If I’m not married to someone who is a believer in the Lord, I’ve got to divorce them. Right?

Just a little bit earlier, in chapter six, hadn’t Paul said that sexual immorality with a prostitute is something that could rip you out of communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is serious, your salvation is at stake. Paul says that’s not the case here.

In the new covenant something is different. Specifically, the nature of the holiness of the new covenant is different. In verse fourteen, Paul says that the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband.

Paul is not saying that if you are an unbeliever married to a believer you can be saved by that marriage apart from faith in Jesus Christ. A few verses later Paul is going to talk about praying for unbelieving spouses. Yet in verse fourteen we see that the unbelieving spouses are somehow set apart for the holy purposes of the Lord by virtue of their marriage to a believing spouse.

What’s going on here? In the old covenant holiness was fragile and easily polluted. What was holy was very easy to make unholy, while what was unholy was very difficult to make it holy. So, there had to be separation from God’s people and the rest of the world and even amongst God’s people. If someone was going to be a holy person, a priest, or holy utensils in the tabernacle used for the worship of God, that had to be very carefully protected lest it be defiled.

In the new covenant we have a different holiness, a holiness that is firm and established and rock solid. What did Jesus do when he came into this world? He went after unclean people and touched them. It wasn’t that their uncleanness defiled him, but it was that his holiness cleansed and sanctified them.

In the old covenant we have all of these pictures, like the food laws that we talked about in 1 Corinthians chapter six. All of these pictures, sometimes what foods you can eat or ritual cleansing to set things apart for use by the Lord. We have all of these pictures in the Old Testament of external, physical rituals that would set someone or something apart to the holy purposes of the Lord.

All of those external, physical pictures were meant to give us some idea of the internal spiritual holiness that God demands of his people. The purpose of the Old Testament picture was always to point to the person and work of Jesus Christ.

What this means is that if you have a religion where you think that by doing certain things to a sufficient enough level to be saved, understand that is categorically false. In the old covenant they had a perfect set of rituals that were given by God himself. Yet that couldn’t make them truly, lastingly holy. They needed a better holiness which can only come through faith in Jesus Christ.

That’s what’s happening here. God is doing is protect the faith of the believing spouse. Not necessarily by forcing the unbelieving spouse to believe, but by rendering the unbelieving spouse holy. Setting that unbelieving spouse apart in such a way to protect the believing spouse from defilements. You don’t have to divorce your spouse because the holiness within you through Christ is stronger than the uncleanness of your spouse

What about children? Will my unbelieving spouse defile my children? The same idea is in play that if you marry a foreigner, someone outside the covenant community in the Old Testament, anyone born of such a forbidden union we are told in Deuteronomy 23:2-4, is excluded from the church of the Lord to the tenth generation. If you marry a pagan foreigner, your children are excluded from the church of the Lord all the way to the tenth generation.

Again, we see this in Malachi 2:11-12. Judah has been faithless, for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which he loves and married the daughter of a foreign God worshiper. May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob, the people of the Lord, any descendant of the man who does this who brings an offering to the Lord.

These statements didn’t apply where any foreigners believed in God. You think about the Canaanite prostitute Rahab and the Moabitess Ruth. They forsook their people and their gods in order to follow Yahweh by faith and immediately they were included in the covenant. That’s important because three generations after Ruth and four generations of Rahab, they are in the same line of descendant, we find David. If you read Matthew chapter one and look at the genealogies, you see Ruth as David’s great-grandmother and Rahab as his great-great-grandmother.

He wasn’t excluded from the people of God because his great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother believed in the Lord and she was instantly included in the covenant. The issue was when those people continued to serve their foreign gods. Then the children were excluded.

Here in Corinth, the concern is precisely the opposite. What if my spouse is an unbeliever? Won’t that exclude my children as being a member of the church? The answer is no. God sanctifies the unbelieving spouse in part to protect the holiness of the believing spouse but in part for protecting the children.

Look at the end of verse fourteen.

14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
1 Corinthians 7:14, ESV

If you don’t stay in the marriage, if you leave your children with only your unbelieving spouse, then your children will be unclean. In these better promises of the new covenant, in the old covenant this would have been true, but now the parents of children in the new covenant has better promises because only by virtue of one believer are the children counted as holy. This is a better promise in the new covenant than what God’s people had of the old. So, Paul is applying this theology as an incentive to remain in the marriage. Your unbelieving spouse will not defile you and your unbelieving spouse will not defiled your children. Remain married.

The last question that remains is what if my unbelieving spouse separates from me? What if they will not accept my new faith in Jesus Christ? Well, this leads us to our third point.

Seek the Salvation of Your Spouse

Paul writes in verse fifteen

15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:15-16, ESV

The first thing that Paul says is that if your unbelieving spouse divorces you, let it be so. You are not enslaved. As one commentator puts it, “You are not held hostage by remaining in a state of marriage that would preclude you from remarrying if your partner willfully deserts you. God has instead called you to peace.”

What Paul is saying when he says that God has called you to peace, it’s probably not associated with what he just said, but with what he’s about to say. God has called you to peace in the sense of he does not want the gospel to disrupt your families, instead he wants you to remain in the calling that you are. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, into which God has called him.

God wants you to stay in your calling. If you are married to an unbeliever at the time that you were converted to Christ, you don’t have to divorce your unbelieving spouse. Stay in your marriage. God has called you to peace, not to disrupt families.

Then in verse sixteen he gives a thought. The phrase, “how do you know” is a phrase that could also be translated, “who knows whether”. It’s the same phrase that the King of Nineveh uses in the book of Jonah. In Jonah 3:9-10, after Jonah comes and declares that great destruction is coming if you don’t repent. The King of Nineveh calls for repentance and calls for the whole city to turn from their sin. Then he says, “how do you know”, God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented from the disaster and did not do it.

What Paul is saying is “who knows”. Wife you may save your husband and husband you may save your wife, who knows. Stay in your marriage to seek the salvation of your spouse. God will protect you. Your unbelieving spouse will not defile you. Stay in the marriage in the prayer and hope that God may save your spouse and he may use you to bring your spouse to the Lord.

Applications

  1. Do everything in your power, by God’s grace, to strengthen your marriage. The negative command here, don’t get divorce, isn’t really enough. It’s not just a negative command. When God forbids something, he commands that we pursue the opposite of it. Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 99 says, “Where a duty is commanded the contrary sin is forbidden. Where a sin in forbidden the contrary is commanded. So, where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included. Where the threatening is annexed, the contrary promises is included.”

    When God commands us against doing something, he also commands is to do the opposite. That means that we have to do everything in our power to not only avoid divorce, but to do everything we can to protect and strengthen our marriages.

    Brothers and sisters pursue martial intimacy. Pursue emotional intimacy. Make time to talk to one another, to laugh with one another, to bear one another’s burdens. Pursue spiritual intimacy together, to read God’s word together, to pray together, to sing together, to spend time discussing serious spiritual things together. Pursue physical intimacy as Paul talked about in the last passage. Don’t deprive one another. Do everything in your power, by God’s grace, to strengthen your marriage.

  2. Recognize and treat your children as God describes them, as holy. Children of believers, or even the children of one believer according to the better promises of the new covenant, are counted as different from the rest of the world. Again, holy doesn’t necessarily mean saved, holy means set apart to the purposes of the Lord. The children of believers have been set apart to the Lord’s purposes in a way that the Christ of non-believers outside of the church are not.

    We baptize infants here, this doesn’t necessarily prove infant baptism, but it rejects any notion that the Christ of believers are the same as the Christ of unbelievers. They are not. God says very clearly right here, through the inspiration of the apostle Paul, that the children of believers are holy in a sense that they would not be if they were only raised by unbelieving parents.

    Your children have been given an extraordinary privilege to grow up in the household of faith. Treat them that way. Relate to them in that way. That’s a promise and privilege that they are given gifts that the rest of the world does not have by growing up in the context of the church.

    Here there is a corresponding warning. Where a promise is annexed, the contrary threatening is included. Jesus himself teaches us in Luke 12:47-48,

    47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.Luke 12:47-48, ESV

    Your children are given extraordinary privileges and they will be held accountable for what they do with those privileges. So, parents, pray with your children. Read the Bible to and with your children. Worship with your children. Talk about spiritual things with your children. Catechize your children. Teach your children.

    I would argue baptize your children. You don’t have to baptize your children to be a member here. We recognize that sincere well-meaning Christians sometimes read the commands about baptism differently. My job and responsibility is to preach the way that we confess as a church, which is that the children of believers are holy and therefore on the basis of their holiness God has set them apart. Because God has set them apart in this way, they should have the promises sealed to them in the sign of baptism.

    The promise of the gospel is that all those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they are born in the household of faith to believing parents, or whether they are from far off, whoever turns to the Lord our God will be saved. But the promises are for them in a special way that is not for the rest of the world. In Acts 2:38-39 we read

    38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:38-39, ESV

    What promise? The promise of repenting and being baptized and receiving the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Recognize and treat your children as God describes them, as holy.

  3. Seek the salvation of an unbelieving spouse. Some of you may find yourself in the kind of difficult marriage that perhaps those in Corinth were experiencing. You recognize that the commands that God has given about marriage are simple but that does not mean that they are easy. These are difficult things, especially when you don’t share the same faith commitment as your spouse.

    There’s a promise from the Lord here that in your marriage God is not only protecting your holiness, but he has actually set apart your unbelieving spouse to be a part of the way in which you will be sanctified. Your spouse’s unholiness doesn’t make you unholy, though you may think it does as you look around at other marriages and wonder you are missing out by the fact that you spouse is not a believer. But God has set apart your spouse for a special purpose.

    Secondarily, God may be seeking to use you to lead your spouse whom you love to the Lord. Who knows? Therefore, pray for your spouse. Witness as effectively as you can, by the grace of God, to your unbelieving spouse.

    Believing husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church, laying down your life for her to the extent that you can, knowing that you cannot force anyone to believe in Christ. Believing wives, submit to your husbands to the extent that you can, know that your first allegiance is to Jesus. So, you can’t follow your husband anywhere he leads you away from Jesus. But knowing that God has called you to be a picture of the responsive faith of the church to the Lord Jesus Christ in the world.

We do all of this in the promise that God not only sanctifies marriage, but he is sanctifying us through our marriages, whomever he may choose to give us.

Let us pray.
Father we ask that you give us grace to trust you in the midst of marriages and some of these marriages may be very difficult. We acknowledge that and we pray that you would give us grace to persevere in faithfulness and grace and holiness. Not because of what we have done.

Father, we acknowledge that everything we need is provided not by our own works but by the righteousness and holiness that Jesus Christ himself gives to us through faith. We pray Father, conform us to the image of Christ, that we may by your grace be a witness to the world of the hope of Christ and in some cases witnesses to even unbelieving spouses in our homes.

We pray that you will raise our children to never remember a day where they didn’t know Jesus. That they would walk in the holiness that you have set them apart to by virtue of being born into believing families. We pray for generational faith. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.

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