“What does Jesus say about divorce?” – Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9 – Pastor Brian
The sanctity of marriage is spoiled by a stubborn heart.
Unfortunately, divorce is a reality that most, if not all, of us either know others or ourselves have experienced the shame, pain and hurt of a broken marriage. 50% don’t make it. Sadly, for Kathy and me, three of our closest and dearest friends got divorced. Due to a variety of reasons, the break-up of their marriages resulted in losing contact with them. Divorce is not only hard for the couple but it has painful long-lasting affects upon children, family and friends. During our first “Called to Care” series we were privileged to hear from a member of our church and her children. They were brave and courageous enough to share with us some of the trauma and pain they experienced in the church while going through the divorce. It was both insightful and convicting as we heard from them.
As followers of Jesus, I believe it’s vital to ask the question, “What does Jesus say about divorce?” Which is the topic and title of today’s message from Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:3-9.
As Jesus taught about divorce and religious leaders attempted to discredit Him, God’s design for marriage becomes more apparent. Because of the destructive power of sin that makes hearts hard toward God’s will and ways, Moses allowed divorce but God’s intent for marriage is a permanent covenantal relationship between a male and female. You might notice that these passages are addressed to men. In those days, men abused their authority over women. Women were horrifically mis-treated by men, sometimes for financial gain, rather than treated as precious and beautiful creations God made women to be. God intended both women and men to complement each other as an image of Himself.
Jesus is speaking to how divorce breaks the holy covenant of marriage but also how God-fearing men and women should realize that divorce puts others in a compromising sinful predicament.
1) Divorce is more than the breaking up of a marriage. Divorce not only damages the marriage relationship, it can cause separation in other relationships as well. Like with our good friends who got divorced. It was not intentional but our close friendship with them was broken and never the same thereafter. Divorce is more than the breaking up of a marriage.
Matthew 5: 31-32, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. ‘But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
From these two verses you can see how divorce impacts the lives of others. The husband personally sins by breaking the marriage covenant. That action in turn then causes others to sin. It puts his wife in the position of committing adultery and also the man who marries her. This principal of how our actions and choices affect others is something believers need to consider.
Christians in general are held accountable not only for personal sins but also how our lives might affect the spiritual lives of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Matthew 18:6-7, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”
Jesus is cautioning every believer that if we cause others to sin, it would be better to be drowned. Of course, this should not be taken literally but it is a powerfully vivid illustration. Jesus is pointing out how our lives impact the lives of others. Whether we like it or not, our choices and conduct have influence.
Jesus’ words are not words of condemnation but must be taken seriously. When we drown in our sins, others drown with us. But praise God for His grace! For regardless of this painful and dark situation, it’s also an opportunity for God’s grace to shine and draw us back to Him.
With that, let’s look further into what Jesus says about divorce. Divorce is more than the breaking up of a marriage.
2) Divorce comes from a hardened heart. Divorce is not what God desires but because of an uncooperative heart it is allowed. In the eyes of God marriage is a permanent union, sin breaks that unity. The marriage relationship is a holy union between a male and female created to honor God. Marriage is sacred and holy, but in a sin-filled world the sanctity of marriage is spoiled by a stubborn heart. Our take home truth. The sanctity of marriage is spoiled by a stubborn heart. Matthew 19: 3-9, “And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 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?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
The Pharisees did not care about Jesus’ answer to their question, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ HIs answer laid out God’s plan for marriage to teach that divorce is not what God desires. They were more focused on trapping Jesus to discredit Him. But we should not overlook this emphasis on marriage. Typically, when we think of marriage, it’s a joyous celebration. We are glad for the couple and the two of them look forward to living life together happily ever after. In the eyes of the world, marriage is where the husband and wife strive to make each other blissfully happy. For sure, happiness and pleasure should be a part of marriage but when the thrill disappears, breaking up has become the norm.
When we read, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” for a Christian couple, this statement indicates a higher purpose for marriage than making each other happy. Scripture tells us that marriage is a reflection of God. It is a picture of God’s eternal and sacrificial love. Marriage is a permanent covenantal bond that not only includes happiness but more importantly, brings glory to God. For the follower of Christ, marriage should be modeled after the sacrificial love of Jesus.
After Jesus responds to the Pharisees…“They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?’ 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.’ And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
Once again, it’s obvious that the religious leader’s hearts were not right. They didn’t care about marriage or divorce when they asked, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” Did you notice the subtle deception of the Pharisee’s question? They asked, “Why did Moses command a certificate of divorce?” Moses was not making a command to add to the Law but the Pharisee’s were subtly attempting to infer that Moses had added the approval of divorce to the Ten Commandments but Jesus wisely responds. 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.” Allowance is far different than a command. Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of heart.
A hardened heart is one that stops caring about the will and ways of God. Ultimately believing in whatever is right in my own eyes rather than God’s. If not careful, personal obsessions can lead to arguments, discord, and hardening of hearts and sadly even divorce. No heart is immune from becoming hardened. If King David, a man after God’s own heart, was capable to commit adultery and murder, then certainly you and I are too.
The obsession could be over differences in the way you parent your child. The differences in the way you approach the home/work life balance. Maybe it is the way in which you communicate or the lack thereof. Even expectations of affection and intimacy can be a source of division. Whether married or not, ANY RELATIONSHIP, can grow distant and dissolve when our hearts are hardened to the Holy Spirit of God.
Jesus says Moses allowed divorce because of a hardened heart and further says in verse 9, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Divorce is not acceptable, except for sexual immorality as seen here and in Matthew 5:31-32.
Beyond adultery, there is one other allowance for divorce. It is the abandonment of a Christian by an unbelieving spouse.
1 Corinthians 7:15, “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.”
Abandonment and adultery are the only biblical causes to dissolve a marriage. But because of the reconciling power of Jesus, divorce for the believer should be a last resort. It is better to try and extend the forgiveness and love that God freely gives, as every follower of Christ should.
There is biblical guidance on when divorce is allowed but what about physical or emotional abuse, what then? The Bible does not say anything about spousal abuse as a reason for divorce but Ephesians 5:22–33 is very clear about what God desires in a marriage and abuse is contrary to everything godly. Physical violence against a spouse is completely wrong and should not be tolerated. No one should remain in an unsafe environment. Physical abuse is also against the law, and civil authorities should be contacted.
With abandonment and adultery, reconciliation in a Christian marriage is the goal. But with an abusive spouse, it is far more involved than time allows this morning.
Conclusion: We have learned that the hardness of heart ruins the meaning of marriage. The sacredness of marriage is devastated by a rigid and unbendable heart. The sanctity of marriage is spoiled by a stubborn heart.
Yet by the Grace of God through the Cross-work of Jesus, His mercy is new every morning regardless of our sins. Whether it be divorce, lying, gossip, lust or even murder in our hearts because of Jesus, we have been set free from the condemnation of sin through His forgiving heart.
Marriage is designed to be a permanent bond, yet when divorce happens, how should we respond? Unfortunately, when it comes to divorce, the Church has a reputation of being most judgmental. I think it’s tragic, that it is within the church where some of the most hurtful statements are made and attitudes felt. When we make judgments and are critical about people, often it is because we don’t take the time or make the effort to understand the person or their circumstance. I like this quote from well-known author John Steinbeck. “Try to understand men (people). If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man (or woman) well, never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
It is important to know what God desires for marriage, but in a fallen world, the reality is, divorce happens. So, what can we do as a body of Christ? We should remember what Jesus said right before the sermon on the mount, “Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is near.” This foundational truth applies to all of us. We are all sinners who need to repent and be reconciled to God through Jesus. Repentance begins with a heart humble enough that acknowledges sin in our lives. Then we can receive His forgiveness and begin forgiving and loving as He forgave and loves us without judgment.
Because divorce is a reality, it is especially important for the church to talk about, acknowledge and reach out to those hurt by divorce. Through sincere efforts to understand and be available for those experiencing divorce, it reminds us that we are all people who need love which is what Jesus says about divorce.
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