The Question of Divorce, Part 1

Title: The Question of Divorce


Text: Matthew 19:1-12

Time: August 3, 2008

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of our time is not the terrorist attack on 9/11 or the AIDS epidemic, or the many other events that have shocked and saddened our world recently, but perhaps the greatest tragedy is the tragedy of divorce. Currently around one-half of all marriages will fail and end in divorce. Millions of couples will quit their marriages this year, hurting themselves along with millions of children, family members, relatives and friends in the process. The single adult population in the United States continues to climb at alarming rates, primarily because of all the divorced adults in society. Unattached men wandering through life, along with millions of unattached women, creates a very unstable social situation. But it’s not just that people get married, fail, divorce, and remain single for very long; they don’t. They usually jump right back into another marriage, which, unfortunately, usually fails and ends up in divorce eventually also. So for millions and millions of people, there are multiple marriages and divorces in their lives. Multiply all the hurt, pain, and chaos that all these relationship failures cause, and we can begin to see the picture of society as a whole in the 21st century – it’s a social mess, it’s a chaotic pool of tangled and mangled relationships, with children mixed up in the middle of it all. Only the Lord knows what the next generation will look like, the children of today’s divorces. In the midst of this social chaos, is there anything that can be done? Are there answers to these huge problems between men and women today? The good news is “Yes” there are answers, they come from God Almighty, and all we have to do is listen to God’s answers and follow His directions in life to avoid many or even most of the problems of divorce in our society today. God addresses the issues of marriage and divorce, He knows that without clear direction from heaven people on earth will come to ruin in their relationships. That’s why God gives us directions on how to be married and how to avoid divorce. We would be wise to listen to him, instead of all the marriage experts and psychologists and psychiatrists and secular counselors. These so-called experts are partly to blame for all the confusion within marriages today, by their giving fundamentally foolish advise about relationships. Only God can be fully trusted to deliver us the truth concerning marriage and divorce, only God can be trusted with our lives and relationships. So lets’ turn today to Matthew 19:1-12 where we’ll find Jesus teaching on marriage and divorce. There are three questions that come up in this short teaching, three questions that can help us as we seek the answers that the Lord gives. So let’s turn to Matthew 19:1-12 (read) and find out what God has to say about marriage and divorce.

First, is it permissible to divorce? Matthew 19:3, “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?’” To understand the question, you have to know that during the time of Jesus the Jewish understanding of divorce was that it was permissible under almost every circumstance. There was a minority opinion that it was permissible only in the case of adultery, but the far more popular view was divorce for almost any reason. But Jesus didn’t want to deal in human opinions, he took them back all the way to the first book in the Bible, Genesis, where he pointed out that from the beginning, it was God’s clear intent that there would be one man, one woman, married, for one lifetime. Jesus said, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female? For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate.” Jesus is referring back to Genesis 2:21-24, “But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This in now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” So we see that it was God’s clear intent and purpose for there to be one man, one woman, one marriage for a lifetime. That’s God’s original design, God’s original plan. But because we live in a fallen world, because Adam and Eve fell into sin and so passed on their sinful nature to all their children, all of us included, instead of looking to God’s original design for marriage, people look for any loopholes out of God’s will in marriage. The only thing the Pharisees wanted to talk about was grounds for divorce instead of grounds for marriage. The emphasis is all wrong. Just like the emphasis is all wrong today. Today, people act as if marriages were made to be broken. People today act as if, “O well, if my marriage doesn’t work out I’ll just get a divorce.” No. That’s the wrong attitude. You are already thinking defeat and failure if you think that divorce is an option. Today, with our liberal divorce laws, people can get a divorce for any reason or no reason at all. 66% of all divorces are filed by women and the vast majority of them are for grounds other than adultery. “Is it lawful to divorce for any and every reason?” That was the Pharisees question and that’s today’s question too. The answer from Jesus is “No” because that is not the original intent of God for people to get divorced, the original intent was for people to get married and stay married. Next question.

Second, if it’s not God’s will to divorce, why then does God permit it? Matthew 19:7-9, “’Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away’? Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.’” Now the argument by the Pharisees is: if it’s so wrong to divorce, then why is it allowed by God in the Bible? And Jesus tried to explain that just because it’s allowed doesn’t mean it’s alright. The sad fact is that because of human sinfulness, divorce happens, but it’s not supposed to happen and people aren’t supposed to be selfish and sinful and self-centered. People aren’t supposed to stubbornly refuse to repent when they’ve sinned within a marriage relationship, but they do. So because of human sinfulness, God permits divorce. But the Pharisees, and the Jews at the time of Jesus, and people today don’t hear what God has to say about marriage being for one man, one woman, one lifetime, and all they want to hear is that divorce is permitted. That way, sinful people can do whatever they want no matter what the will of God is for them. And that’s just what is happening today. We see people getting divorces for any reasons or no reasons at all. It used to be in the United States that one person couldn’t just file for divorce for no good reason, but today that has all changed. If just one person in the marriage wants a divorce they can get it, as easy as that. It’s called no-fault divorce laws. Now some states have what is called Covenant Marriage Contracts where the couples can sign a document stating that they will not divorce until they go through a counseling plan and do everything possible to save the marriage. All of this is put in writing before they are married. That’s a positive option. That would eliminate a lot of petty divorce. But again, if the people aren’t even willing to sign such an agreement today there isn’t much more that can be done. Because of the hardness of hearts of many couples, divorce happens and at a record rate. Now younger couples don’t even bother to get married, they just live together in sin, cohabitate or as it used to be called shacking up. That still shows the hardness of the sinful human heart. Divorce comes from a sinful hard heart. Living together without the benefit of marriage shows the sinful human hard heart also, just in another form. Both forms are not what God originally intended for men and women. The original design of God was for one man, one woman, one lifetime in marriage. Anything else is sinful. God doesn’t approve of divorce, he puts up with it, he tolerates it because something has to be done with sinners. Better to have an orderly process for a failed marriage than a chaotic state of failed marriages. The lesser of two evils. Last question.

Third, if divorce isn’t permitted except under the strictest conditions, isn’t it better to remain single? Matthew 19:10-12, “The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’ Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” The disciples start thinking about what Jesus said and concluded that if God’s will is for one man, one woman, one lifetime in marriage, and if divorce is not God’s will, but permitted perhaps under very strict circumstances, then maybe it’s better not to marry at all. That’s what young people today are thinking too. Why get married, just live together. But that’s no solution because it’s sin, it’s called fornication. And neither is the disciples’ conclusion a solution either. Normally both men and women will have to get married because they have such a strong urge to reproduce. You can’t just decide, “I think I won’t desire sex, I think I’ll just not have these feelings.” No. it’s not that simple. For most people, the urge for sex is so strong that they simply must have it; that’s why God designed marriage. Marriage is the only legitimate way to fulfill sexual desires. Cohabitation or shacking up is not permissible by God; it’s sin, it’s fornication. It will bring the curse of God upon you. It will eventually curse and bring judgment upon a society that practices it. It’s no alternative in the eyes of God. Yet I see people living together all the time, even so-called Christians are copying the sinful pagan world and following right along into cohabitation. They think it’s an alternative to marriage; it’s not. Now there are some people, a small minority of people, who can remain single and celibate and be content with that state. Jesus lists them. There is one group that is made up of people who were born without natural sexual drives. Another group that was made to lose their sex drive, eunuchs, and people like that. Then there is another group that has voluntarily renounced sex for the sake of the kingdom of God. Now most people can’t make such a renouncement because they don’t have the will power and ability to follow through on the vow. So marriage is the outlet for most people, or as Paul says, “It is better to marry than to burn with passion.” But the fact is, with God’s original design for marriage, it is doable, it is workable. With God’s help a couple can stay together and get along with each other in marriage for a lifetime. Divorce is never, ever necessary if each person is following the will of God. And even if one fails or is unfaithful, that doesn’t mean the marriage must end. There can be confession of sin, and repentance, and restoration.

I’ll talk more about marriage next week, specifically about the whole issue of the grounds of divorce. We’ve already seen that Jesus stated that there is grounds for divorce and that is adultery, but we need to look into that further to determine if there is anything else the Bible says about the grounds for divorce. And then after a while, maybe in a couple of weeks, I want to tackle the whole issue of remarriage. Under what circumstances is it permissible according to the Bible to remarry after a divorce? Many of these questions aren’t even asked anymore in our day and age. Many of these issues are simply taken for granted. In fact, I bet some of you have faced some of these questions and really didn’t give it much thought at all. In our laws today, almost everything is permitted, and because of that most people think that because it is permitted by law, it must be alright. But that’s simply not true. There are many things today that are legal by the laws of the land, that are still sinful in the mind of God, and should be seen as sinful in the eyes of Christians as well. The biggest example is abortion. The laws of the land allow for abortion for almost any reason, but that doesn’t make it any less a sin in the eyes of God. Just because it’s possible doesn’t make it right. It’s the same way in respect to divorce and remarriage. Today we live under liberal divorce and remarriage laws, but that doesn’t mean it’s alright by God. As we’ve seen today, there are grounds for divorce in a limited sense, and as we’ll see later, there are also grounds for remarriage as well. But according to the Bible, it isn’t as wide open as the laws of our land reflect. Under certain circumstances, if you remarry to someone who hasn’t gone through a legitimate, biblical divorce you are committing adultery. The law may permit it, but God might not permit it. So we need to examine the whole issue of divorce and remarriage further. We live in a time of social and moral chaos. Just 25 years ago things were a lot more stable than they are today. Society is going through such rapid change in the area of morality that I’m not sure we’ll escape without some form of God’s judgment upon our land. We know better. Our culture and nation had been founded upon Christian principles, so we know better. Our disobedience and sin is rebellion. God will not sit back forever and permit the kind of spiritual and moral rebellion we see today to continue much longer. Something has to give soon. If you want to play a role in bringing back America to some form of moral and spiritual sanity, then get married in the right way, stay married, and don’t divorce. It may be too late for our nation in facing God’s judgment, but it might not be too late for you. Don’t violate God’s will in regards to marriage and divorce. Don’t tempt God to discipline you for your sins. Instead, obey God and receive his blessings in your life.


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