Divorce: Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 5
Gospel of Matthew – Chapter 5 – Law of Divorce
Matthew 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce,’ but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery'” (WEB).
The majority of marriages today end in divorce. It seems that when things get rough, people want out, instead of “for better or for worse” and “until we are parted by death,” it has become “”until I am no longer happy.”
What do we say about all of this? What does the church have to say? Well, often the church simply condemns divorce. That is easy enough. The tragedy is many condemn both divorce and those who are divorced, both the sin and the sinner, by doing that, we separate ourselves from the people who have been divorced.
What The Church Says
We must be careful when we listen to what the church says. Often, churches are guilty of twisting the Scriptures to accommodate their own particular bias. Generally, they either raise the standard or lower it. On one hand, well-meaning people raise the standard in their desire to stop divorce. Therefore, they say there should be no divorce for anybody for any reason and absolutely no remarriage for anyone at any time, period. The only problem with this attitude it is biblically incorrect.
On the other hand, there are those well-intentioned people who look at the problem of divorce and say we must not forget that people are involved, and we need to love them, care for them, minister to them, and accept them. The tendency here is to lower the standard to accommodate everybody. While these churches rightly emphasize forgiveness, they end up lowering the standard to the same as that of the world. That is biblically wrong.
What The Bible Says
Perhaps we should not be asking what the church says, but rather what the Bible, God’s Word says. Does God have a word for the tragedy of divorce? The answer is, yes, He does. In addition, it is a redemptive word for those who have been scarred by divorce; and a strong word of encouragement for those seeking to build strong Christian marriages. You see, 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 build a strong marriage relationship. God not only diagnoses the illness, He prescribes the cure. We need to hear that word today.
In verse 31, we have the teaching of the scribes. There were two schools of thought in Jesus’ day concerning divorce; first, divorce was only permissible on the grounds of some sexual impropriety. Second, a man could divorce his wife for any reason. If she burned his breakfast, showed disrespect to him, spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s parents in his presence, spoke to a man on the street, or even let her hair down in public, he could divorce her. The first view regarding divorce was popular in Jesus’ day.
In Matthew 19:1-10, the religious leaders of the day, who wanted Jesus to become unpopular with the people, tried to trap Him. Perhaps they had heard the Sermon on the Mount and they knew He would never side with the more liberal but highly popular view.
Controversy Based on Deuteronomy
However, the testing of the religious leaders was flawed by misinterpretation. This entire controversy was based on a passage of Scripture in Deuteronomy 24:1.
Rather than entering into a debate over what the “indecency” (NASB) “uncleanness” (KJV) was, He told the religious leaders why Moses wrote the commandment concerning divorce. Jesus said that it was for the hardness of heart of the people. That was the whole reason divorce was permitted. The people’s hearts had become hard and they were divorcing their wives for any reason. You must remember that the wife never had the authority to divorce her husband. Therefore, 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. However, the rabbis had taken this as some kind of right to divorce a wife for any reason.
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 (Matthew 19:4-6).
Jesus points to God’s original intention back in creation. You recall there that God made one man and one woman. God did not create two men; it was not Adam and Alan. He did not create two women; it was not Eve and Susie, nor did God create any extras in case Adam and Eve did not work; it was just Adam and Eve, one man and one woman. That was God’s original intent. That is still His desire for marriage. Make no mistakes about it, God’s intent is one man married to one woman until they are parted by death. God sees marriage as two people becoming one, committed to one another, in a covenant relationship that lasts a lifetime.
What About Divorce
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? Is divorce, as soon people think, an unforgivable sin? All these are questions that need answers. 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 in the church about these issues. However, we must be careful to say what the Scriptures say, not to interpret them based on religious tradition or even the rabbis of our day.
In Matthew 5:32, Jesus said, “but I tell you that whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of sexual immorality, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries her when she is put away commits adultery.”
Here Jesus gives a ground for divorce. This ground is also found in Matthew 19:9. In these passages we see one biblical exception for divorce, 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. However, 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.
Divorce and Remarriage
In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 we find another important passage dealing with divorce and remarriage. Here we have two Christians married to one another. Paul simply says, “Stay together.” There is no reason to leave, if there is no unfaithfulness. 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. However, if she leaves under those circumstances, she is either to be reconciled to her husband, or to remain unmarried. There is no biblical reason why two Christians should divorce.
Married to Unbeliever
Finally, Paul addresses a mixed marriage, a Christian who is married to an unbeliever. These mixed marriages could happen in a couple of ways. Two unbelievers could be married, and then later one becomes a Christian. The second way is that a believer could marry an unbeliever in direct contradiction to the Scriptures. The Bible teaches us that we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. That is the command of God. It is not something put there to make us more miserable.
In fact, it is something put there for our own good. God is trying to save us the misery of being locked into a marriage with someone whose values are different, whose outlook on life is different, and whose goals are different. While it is possible for God to do something to save that person, there is no guarantee that it will happen. You may be condemned to a life of misery.
The teaching here is quite simple; Paul is 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. He says, “If you are a believer married to an unbeliever, stay with them. God may save them.”
In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul gives us the only other biblical grounds for divorce. When an unbelieving partner leaves a believer, the believer is to let that partner leave. What the Scripture is teaching here is that Christians should stay with non-Christians as long as the non-Christian is willing. However, 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.
That raises the question, what about those who have divorced outside those grounds? 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. There was no reason for it, and there is no excuse. The sin of divorce is no different from any other sin. Divorce is not the “unpardonable sin.”
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. Here are some principles to help us avoid the sin of divorce. We have already referred to the fact that God’s original intent for marriage was one man and one woman, 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, we are committed to God: to be obedient to Him, to follow His word, to put Him first in our life. If a man and a woman are committed to God, they have a foundation for a strong marriage relationship.
However, commitment also means that we are committed to our marriage partner. Because we are committed to God, we can then be committed to that person. Because we are committed to God first, and committed to one another, we can survive almost any storm. 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 that cannot be moved.