DEALING WITH DIVORCE
Matthew 5:31-32, 19:1-10


Introduction:      Most everyone has been touched by divorce. You have either been divorced or know of someone close to you who has. The majority of marriages today end in divorce. It seems that when things get rough, people want out. And they are getting out in increasing numbers. Instead of "for better or for worse" it has become "for better not for worse." Instead of "until death do we part" it has become "until I am no longer happy." What do we say about all of this? Often we simply condemn divorce. That's easy enough. The tragedy is many condemn both divorce and those who are divorced - both the sin and the sinner. It's far neater that way. By doing that, we not only stand against divorce, but we also will not have to get our hands dirty by grappling with real people who have been divorced. We must be careful when we listen to the convictions of others. Perhaps we should not be asking what others say, but rather what God's Word says. Does God have a word for the tragedy of divorce? Yes, He does and it is a redemptive word for those who have been scarred by divorce; and also a strong word of encouragement for those seeking to build strong Christian marriages. It is God's desire not only to minister to those who have failed in their marriages, but also to give practical instruction to those seeking to divorce-proof their current marriage. God not only diagnoses the illness, He prescribes the cure. We need to hear that word today. Letís look at God's Word in order to discover the plain, biblical teaching concerning divorce.

 

I.          THE TEACHING OF THE SCRIBES

There were two schools of thought in Jesus' day concerning divorce. One taught that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of some sexual impropriety. This was the stricter view. The other view was more liberal and taught that a man could divorce His wife for any reason. The second view was the view that was popular in Jesus' day.

            A.        The Religious Leaderís Testing (Matt.19:1-3)

The religious leaders of the day tried to trap Jesus knowing He would never side with the more liberal but highly popular view. The account is found in Matthew 19:1-10. The testing of the religious leaders was:

         Flawed by misinterpretation (Deut.24:1)

This entire controversy was based on a passage of Scripture in Deuteronomy 24:1-2.

         The religious leaders construed this as a commandment: (Matthew 19:7)

What is being recounted here is not a command to divorce, but the objective account of one who does divorce based on some "uncleanness" or "indecency." Now the real issue was:

         What constituted uncleanness.

The conservative view said that it was sexual impropriety. The liberal view said it was for any reason. Some took this view even farther by saying that the "indecency" in her meant that a man could divorce his wife when he found another woman who was more beautiful. Such was the climate in Jesus' day. It is not very much different from the climate in our day. The religious leaders tested Jesus, hoping that He would discredit Himself with the people by adopting an unpopular view concerning divorce. I'm sure all ears were opened as the crowd waited to hear His response.

            B.         The Righteous Lordís Teaching (Matt.19:4-10)

Jesus reminded the religious leaders of the detailed instruction of Moses. They confronted Him with what Moses had said in Deuteronomy 24. Then Jesus did what He was so adept at doing. He cut right to the heart of the issue.

         Hardened Hearts (Matthew 19:8)

Rather than entering into a debate over what the "indecency" was, He focused on why Moses wrote the commandment concerning divorce. Jesus said that it was for the hardness of heart of the people. People's hearts had become hard and they were divorcing their wives for any reason. You must understand that the wife never had the authority to divorce her husband. So Moses wrote the law concerning the writing of a bill of divorcement for the protection of the woman. Without such a bill, she had no rights at all. It was because of the mercy of God and the hardness of the human heart that this instruction was given. But the rabbis had taken this as some kind of right to divorce a wife for any reason.

         Marriageís Divine Intention

Jesus further revealed the divine intention for marriage by digging deeper and giving these religious leaders a lesson from the very beginning of their Bible. "Have you not read, (Matthew 19:4-6). Jesus points to God's original intention back in creation. God made one man and one woman. God did not create any extras in case Adam and Eve didn't work out. Make no mistakes about it - God's intent is one man married to one woman until they are parted by death. The religious leaders came to Jesus and tested Him by asking, "What do you think about divorce?" He responded to them by saying, "What do you think about marriage?" And then He revealed to them what God thinks about marriage. God sees marriage as two people becoming one, committed to one another, in a covenant relationship which lasts a lifetime. But we still have the question: What about divorce? Does the Scripture have anything to say about that? Divorce is real. Divorce happens. Are there any guidelines? Is there any sure word from God? Is the original intention of God all there is in the Bible by which we judge marriage, divorce and remarriage? How do we deal with people who get divorced? Are there any biblical grounds for divorce? All these are questions which need answers. And while Jesus expresses the divine intention for marriage, He does not stop there. He goes on to deal with

         The issue of divorce

We need to be clear about these issues. It's far easier to let someone do your thinking for you than to struggle with the Scriptures as you study them and pray over them to seek God's direction as you attempt to apply them to your life.

 

II.                 THE TRUTH OF THE SCRIPTURES

Jesus gives ground for divorce in 5:32. This ground is also found in Matthew 19:9. Adultery in the Old Testament was punishable by death (Lev 20:10) "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death." No one would have disputed that marital unfaithfulness was a just ground for divorce.

            A.        Biblical Exceptions Allowing For Divorce.

         Marital unfaithfulness.

Just as under the original law, adultery punished by death would break the marital bond and release the partner, so marital unfaithfulness by adultery could do the same. But notice here that Jesus never commanded divorce for unfaithfulness, but only permitted it. What Jesus is saying is that if a man divorces his wife for anything less than adultery, he then causes her to commit adultery and commits adultery himself.

         Is there anything else the Scripture says on this subject?

In 1 Corinthians 7:6-15 we find another important passage dealing with divorce and remarriage Remember that Paul is writing to Christians. The first category he addresses is

v      Single people: (vv. 8-9) he's saying here is that if you are single and can remain single, do so. But if you have a need to marry, then that is OK too.

Next, he addresses

v      Christians married to one another: (vv. 10-11) Paul simply says, "Stay together." It is interesting that he does make a provision for a separation. In fact, the Bible does not anywhere teach that the wife has an obligation to stay in a home with an abusive man who threatens her physical welfare or the welfare of her children. But if she leaves under those circumstances, she is either to be reconciled unto her husband, or to remain unmarried. There is no biblical reason why two Christians should divorce.

Finally, Paul addresses a mixed marriage

v      A Christian who is married to an unbeliever. (vv. 12-15) Paul is well familiar with the teaching of Jesus and he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, expands the exception from marital unfaithfulness to include desertion by an unbelieving partner. The Scriptures tell us that "the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases." Bondage to what? Obviously, bondage to the law of marriage (Rom 7:2) "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband." Here he speaks of being released from that bondage by the desertion of an unbelieving partner. What the Scripture is teaching here is that Christians should stay with non-Christians as long as the non-Christian is willing. But if the non-Christian leaves the Christian and divorces him or her, then the Christian is released from that marriage biblically, and is free to remarry.

To sum up, there are only three things that release a marriage partner from a marriage: (1) the death of one marriage partner; (2) sexual unfaithfulness by a marriage partner; and (3) the desertion and divorce by an unbelieving marriage partner. That is the plain teaching of Scripture.

            B.         Biblical Exhortation Assuring The Divorced

While there are biblical grounds for a divorce, what about those who have divorced outside those grounds? To those, we have to say that what they have done is to sin against God and against their partner. If there is the possibility, they need to go and be reconciled to the one they divorced. If one of them has remarried, then they must simply cast themselves on the mercy of God in repentance and ask for forgiveness. They must call it what it is - sin. But at the same time the sin of divorce is no different than any other sin. It is not the "unpardonable" sin. And to make it otherwise is to sin an even greater sin, the sin of self-righteous spiritual pride. The sinner who casts himself upon Jesus in sincere repentance will find forgiveness. And we must forgive those whom God forgives. It is sad, but in some churches, you could be forgiven of murder, but not divorce. I want you to know that God can heal and restore divorced persons and can use them in His Kingdom, not as second-class citizens, but in the same way he uses all saved sinners.

         Of course, the best path is to avoid divorce.

Let me share a biblical principle to help us divorce-proof our marriages. We've already referred to the fact that God's original intent for marriage was two people joined in a one-flesh union, committed to one another in a covenant relationship for life. If we will heed the principle of commitment, our marriages will be safe. Commitment means first,

         I am committed to God:

To be obedient to Him, to follow His word, to put Him first in my life. If a man and a woman are committed to God, they have a foundation for a marriage that will be divorce-proof. But commitment also means that

         I am committed to my marriage partner.

Because I am committed to God, I can then be committed to that person. Because I am committed to God's word, divorce is not an option. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to put that word out of your vocabulary. For the believer, divorce is never an option. Christians who are committed to God first and committed to one another can survive almost any storm.

 

Conclusion:       We can divorce-proof our marriages if we will live according to God's original purpose. As we put Jesus first, and as we both together move closer to Him, we will be pulled closer together. And God will give us a wonderful marriage that is founded upon the rock which cannot be moved.