Jesus and Divorce – Matthew 5:31,32

July 14, 2008

INTRODUCTION – DOES anyone know where in the Bible it says, “It’s a Man’s World”?? I’ll give you a clue. It is right next to the passage that says “a woman’s place is in the kitchen!”. ….. In other words, neither phrase is in the Bible. But did you know that the culture and society into which Jesus Christ was born and raised, and eventually started His ministry was founded on that underlying attitude?

Now what would you do, if you knew you had 3 and half years to build a movement that would establish the kingdom of God on the earth, – a kingdom in which men and women are equal in value and importance, and you knew you were to primarily invest in 12 men to lead that movement – – 12 men who were as slimed as anyone by that underlying attitude??

Well I will tell you what Jesus did. He quickly brought His fast growing healing and deliverance ministry to a halt, went up on a mountain with His disciples – a group that included the 12 and many more – – and began to painstakingly teach them about the values and principles of the kingdom of God. He started off with what we call the Beattitudes – a series of characteristics that were a direct confrontation with the prevailing ideas about masculinity and the road to success. Brokenness, humility, meekness, mercy, purity of heart, hungering and thirsting for righteousness instead of having to be right, living solely for God’s approval and not man’s, gladly enduring suffering and persecution – – – – these were the foundational attitudes that Jesus’s kingdom would be built on. Then He began to speak to their purpose in the earth – that of salt and light, not just building some religious club.

From there He made sure they all knew that every word of the law and prophets was from the very mouth of God, and that no matter what came and went in society, the word of God would never die or become irrelevant. And that the ultimate in the kingdom was to keep and help others learn to keep His word and way – resulting in true righteousness.

Well Jesus knew there would be confusion in the ranks because of the deception and compromise of their religious leaders – the Pharisees and Scribes. So he began to give some illustrations of what righteousness really looks like – through a proper understanding of the Old Testament law and the heart behind it.

His first illustration from the commandment to not murder dealt with the root issue of anger and venom as expressed through our words towards others. Men have always reserved the right to express their disgust at people who get in their way or cross them; but Jesus takes away that right; and says if you want to enter and live and thrive in My kingdom – you are going to have to let me deal with that thing that rises up in you, and that causes you to demean and crush my children.

His second illustration we looked at last week was from the commandment to not commit adultery. Jesus Christ made it very clear that lust, not love leads to adultery, that lust actually is adultery, and that lust is a cancer that must be rooted out at all costs. Learn to control lustful passions, and you will never have to worry about the snare of adultery.

His third illustration that we are going to dive into today comes not from one of the ten commandments; but rather from a verse in Deut. 24:1-4. Let’s first read our passage for today – Matt. 5:31,32 first. Then I would like for you to turn to Deut. 24:

Four Observations about this passage:
1. Scholars tell us that divorce was widespread in the ancient Near East. The context is a husband has caught his wife in some form of moral indecency. The text isn’t absolutely clear on what form that indecency took, but we are pretty clear that it refers to a shameful or disgraceful act other than illicit sexual intercourse, because the penalty for adultery in that day was stoning.

2. The certificate of divorce was a written document whose purpose was to regulate the practice of divorce, not endorse it. Please note there is no command or encouragement in this passage to divorce. In fact – it appears that the certificate was mandated by God to just make getting a divorce a little more difficult, and providing some accountability to those who do so.

3. The primary teaching of this passage is that a man cannot take back his ex-wife if she has subsequently been married and joined to another – because in God’s eyes she has been defiled, which probably speaks to her having been divorced twice and perhaps to her having been joined to two men sexually. It ends with the consequences of such behavior, and perhaps serves – if understood properly as one more caution to getting a divorce in the first place.

4. This passage is followed by a verse that clearly shows the high value marriage has in God’s eyes (vs. 5).

Two Other passages in Deut. Having to do with divorce:

1. This is not the first time divorce has been discussed in the law of Moses. Deut. 22:13-19 deals with the situation where a husband accuses his wife (after they have consummated their marriage) of not being a virgin. The understanding and expectation beforehand was that both of them were virgins. The evidence as the elders of the town examine it is that the man’s wife was indeed a virgin when they were married. Then the passage tells what the penalty towards the husband must be for falsely accusing and shaming her, and it also denies him the right to divorce her.

2. The other passage that deals with divorce before this one is found in Deut. 22:28,29. It basically teaches that if a man finds a non engaged virgin girl and seizes her and has sex with her and they are discovered, he has to pay her dad a very significant fine, and he has to marry her, and he may never divorce her all his days.

One of the aspects of our fallen nature is that we tend to latch on to a phrase in the Bible that supports our sinful desires, and ignore the rest of scripture that has bearing on that subject. Sometimes I think the Bible is used more as a tool to support our unrighteousness, than as a tool to stimulate our pursuit of righteousness.

Well apparently, some of the Jewish religious leaders and perhaps Jewish men in general were using this passage in Deuteronomy as an excuse to divorce their wives. This is a classic case where the law was improperly used to support lawlessness because these folk did not take in view the whole council of God on this subject, and had not connected with God’s heart concerning marriage and divorce.

The other passage that Jews in Jesus’s day should have been familiar with regarding divorce is Malachi 2:13-16. Why don’t you turn there…
I just want to make several quick observations about this passage so we can see and feel God’s heart behind His commands about marriage and divorce.

1. Please note that our ability to experience the presence and favor of God is directly related to our level of commitment to our spouse in marriage. (vs. 13,14). And if we are to be faithful to the wording here, this again is a message to husbands about the way they treat their wives. This is not a generic passage to either husbands or wives. It is clearly directed to husbands who have allowed the “It’s a man’s world” culture they live in affect the way they treat and look at their wives.

You can worship longer, and feed the poor, and minister in the prisons, and go off to here and there to get more anointing, but if you continue to mistreat your wives men, you will continue to miss God. His commitment to you is directly related to your commitment to your wife. Your ability to experience intimacy with Him hinges on how much you pursue intimacy ( and I do not mean just sexual) with your wife. Peter reflects this same truth when he says in his first epistle to husbands – that if they do not live with their wives in an understanding way – their prayers will be hindered.

2. In God’s eyes, those vows you made at your wedding were not a formality, nor were they breakable (vs. 14). In God’s purpose and plan, a deep rooted covenant commitment to your wife is the bedrock of your marriage. One of the things that gives security to a wife (and to one’s children) is knowing that her husband and their father will never, never throw in the towel come hell or high water.

You see God created us in His image; and one of the attributes of God is He is a covenant keeping utterly faithful God. And He expects we husbands to model and demonstrate that in our marriages and in our homes. Please note that breaking covenant in God’s eyes is dealing treacherously with your wife.

3. If you are in the midst of a shaky marriage right now, or perhaps for whatever reasons, you are not overflowing in confidence in your ability to have this kind of marriage, let me assure you – God never meant for you to do this in your own power. Look at vs. 16. If you are born again and the Spirit of God has begun to reside in you, if you will learn to respond to His voice and walk by His power and not your own, you never have to worry about being able to pull this off. The Holy Spirit’s code language is covenant. Anything He builds and sustains on earth will have covenant in its dna. He breathes covenant. Our job is to heed His moving, convicting, sanctifying work in our lives every moment of every day. Please note that this command is repeated again in vs. 16

4. Finally, we dare not leave this passage without facing up to how God really feels about divorce., and about those who with a hard heart pursue it (vs. 16). As I was preparing for this sermon on Wednesday I got out my two files on divorce and scanned all the articles and studies I have collected over the years. Regardless of whether from a secular or religious source, one thing everyone is clear on who has studied the effects of divorce on our society is that its destruction is incalculable. In most cases it leaves devastation in its wake – especially on the children of the divorced parents. That’s one of the reasons why God hates divorce.

Is divorce a worse sin than others? Well we know from Proverbs ch. 6 that God also hates haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and a person who spreads strife among brothers.”

Divorce is obviously not the unpardonable sin. It is as forgivable as any other sin. But the consequences on families and communities and society at large are huge. As one person wrote, “Love is grand. Divorce is a hundred grand.”

Somehow in the church we have to hold this standard high – especially for our young people as they begin to get to the age of courting; and yet also extend the grace and forgiveness God is so quick to extend to those who have experienced the heart ache of divorce.

And that leads us back to Matt. 5 where Jesus does give a valid reason for divorce – let’s read the passage again. (5:31,32)

Please note in this passage, and this is true of any passage in the Bible on divorce, there is never a command to divorce, or encouragement to divorce.

Nor does a spouse whose spouse has been unfaithful to him and had an affair with someone else – – have to divorce him or her. But if a spouse has discovered his spouse has been unfaithful to him or her, and there just is no hope for restoration of their marriage and relationship (usually because the unfaithful spouse is continuing in their adulterous relationship), then the faithful spouse can divorce with the blessing and favor of God.

One of the questions often asked of this passage is how – when a man divorces his wife – does he make her commit adultery?? When a man divorces his wife for any reason other than infidelity on her part, even though he and the courts may see them as no longer married – because of their sexual union – God still sees them as married. The implication here is that if I divorce Anne because I conclude we are incompatible, and she then eventually marries someone else, because in God’s eyes she is still joined to me, I have just made her commit adultery.

Another question from this passage is: if the reason for the divorce is a clear case of infidelity, is the faithful spouse free to re-marry in God’s eyes? I believe the answer is yes. But I would hope that one would not quickly run into another relationship just because you can – – because there is certainly no guarantee that the 2nd time around will go better. In fact the statistics show the opposite. If you go through a divorce for whatever reason, you need to remain in close fellowship and accountability with your brothers and sisters, and allow them to walk with you through this process. Often what happens in the church, is a couple divorces and they break fellowship with their brothers and sisters, and then on their own make more choices that are not well thought through and eventually also do not turn out well.

In saying this, I am aware that sometimes when couples have divorced their Christian friends haven’t handled it the best, and the church at times has been clumsy and even condemning in its attitude and treatment of those going through a divorce.

Conclusions/Applications:
1. We must do everything in our power to hold high the standard of Biblical godly marriage. Divorce in the church should be rare – especially with those we have a chance to teach and disciple from an early age.

2. We must do everything in our power to help struggling couples work through their marital issues – helping them see that divorce is not a solution – and that marriage is worth the fight, and that nothing is impossible with God.

3. We must make sure we are a church and people wherein forgiveness, mercy and grace abounds. We have all failed in many ways in our calling to love and become like Christ and to proclaim Christ. The church must be a place where people can come and know they will not be condemned or judged inappropriately, as long as they are not running from their sin.

4. Regardless of how you married the person you are married to or whether you should have married the person you are married to, if you are married – God’s clear will is for you to stay married. And His commandment is not burdensome. God doesn’t dwell in the past. Neither should we. All of us – regardless of our history –need to pull together and make the most of the present. God lives in the present.

5. If you intercede for the church, this “It’s a man’s world” attitude or stronghold must be broken, or we will continue to struggle and fail in this arena. Marriage will never be what God has meant for it to be until men see women as God sees them – especially their own wives.

6. If you have been divorced, you must not allow the enemy to intimidate you and convince you that you cannot participate in the church’s mission to proclaim and demonstrate God’s matchless wisdom in the institution of marriage.

7. Hand out LOCF Marriage Covenant Statement

Closing Prayer

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