The Question of Divorce, Part 2

Title: The Question of Divorce, Part 2


Text: Matthew 5:31-32

Time: August 10, 2008

We are talking about what the Bible says about divorce, or rather, what God says about divorce, since the Bible is God’s Word. Last week I dealt with the passage found in Matthew 19 on divorce, but this week I’d like to focus on what Jesus teaches on divorce in Matthew 5:31-32; it’s a little different. It says essentially the same thing, only it adds some extra bit of information that’s important for us to understand. We can also see that already again in the same book of the Bible Jesus is dealing with the issue of divorce. Now some people think that the Bible is irrelevant for today, that it teaches things that are outdated, that it has no connection with the modern world. But I can’t think of a more relevant topic than that of divorce. Over the last 25 years we’ve seen the divorce rate skyrocket. Never before in the whole history of mankind has there been such an increase in divorce in any society such as what we are now experiencing. Just 100 years ago divorce was rare. Most small rural small towns were unaffected by it. Most people could count on their two hands the number of people they knew who had been divorced; it was that rare. But today practically everyone knows family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, even themselves who have gone through a divorce. And not just one, but sometimes multiple divorces. It’s gotten to the point now that hardly anybody notices it, it’s so common. It’s gotten to the point now that couples don’t even bother with marriage at all, they just live together or cohabit or as it’s also known, shacking up. We have gotten so far from God’s intent and purpose for couples today that we are lost and we don’t even know we are lost. Lots of couples don’t know anything other than multi-marriages, cohabiting, etc. They think that’s just how relationships are done. Our challenge today is to teach God’s plan and purpose for marriage, and constantly remind people what the Bible teaches about all these things – marriage, divorce, and remarriage. So today I’d like to talk further about the subject of divorce and explore what Jesus says about this in Matthew 5:31-32 (read). It’s pretty much the same as Matthew 19:1-12 except that it emphasizes the important point that not everything that people call divorce is really divorce, because a person isn’t divorced unless God considers them divorced. Or in other words, just as God defines who is married and who isn’t, God also defines, ultimately, who is legitimately divorced and who isn’t. Now why does this matter? Because only a person who is legitimately divorced can be legitimately remarried. Now do you see how important it is to have God’s recognition of both marriage and divorce? If not, one could be living in a state of adultery and not even know it. So it’s very important to know what is and what isn’t a legitimate divorce in the eyes of God. Let me mention three things.

First, it’s possible to be divorced according to man and still be married according to God. Matthew 5:31-32, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” It’s a little complicated, but let me explain what it means. In the time of Jesus the Jews had very lax divorce laws, believe it or not. We like to think of the ancient Jews as a very strict, legalistic group, and they were that in many ways, but on this one subject of divorce they were very loose and lax. According to the popular teaching of that time, according to the most popular rabbis, a man could divorce his wife for practically any reason at all. Following the great Jewish rabbi Hillel, the Jews permitted divorce for almost any reason; and they interpreted the Old Testament teachings of Moses to support this. They cited Moses as giving permission to divorce. All one needed to do was give his wife a certificate of divorce stating the grounds and then send her away; that was that. Very simple, very easy. Sounds like today doesn’t it? It sounds like the easy divorce we see today. You can go on the internet today and find offers for quickie, budget $25 divorces. Or you can go to Las Vegas and get divorced for probably less than that. But the point Jesus was making is that even though there may be many human and man-made laws that permit a quickie divorce, that doesn’t mean that it is legitimate in the eyes of God. So in other words, a person might be divorced in human terms, but really still married in the eyes of God, in reality. What is reality? What is real? Is it what man says is so or is it what God says? Of course, reality is what God knows, because he is the creator and maker of all things. He gets the last word. Unless a person divorces for biblical reasons, on biblical grounds, he or she isn’t really divorced. What that means is there are probably, no doubt, thousands, maybe even millions of people walking around thinking they are divorced when in reality they are still married. There are people who think they are divorced but who are really in the eyes of God still married, who get remarried, and guess what sin they commit? Adultery. If you are married, you can’t marry another person without committing the sin of adultery. So there are many people who think they are really married, but in reality what they are is living in adultery, in sin. Why? Because they didn’t divorce for biblical reasons, they didn’t have grounds for divorce, they just got divorced for their own reasons, and consequently, it doesn’t count. Now what is the only biblical grounds for divorce? Let’s look at it.

Second, adultery is legitimate grounds for divorce according to Jesus. Matthew 5:32, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who married the divorced woman commits adultery.” Here is the only grounds for divorce Jesus states, and so divorce is limited to this one condition. Now there is only one other exception to this and that’s what the Apostle Paul explains in 1 Corinthians concerning divorce – if an unbeliever departs from the home or marriage, let him depart. Or in other words, according to the Apostle Paul, if a believer is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever refuses to live with the believer, if they just leave and refuse to stay married, Paul says that the believer is not bound to the marriage in that case. You might call this grounds abandonment. But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about here, he’s stating the one, universal grounds for marriage without qualification – adultery. “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress,” says Jesus. Adultery is the only grounds, besides the grounds of abandonment the Apostle Paul later states, for divorce. But Jesus isn’t giving any other exceptions here than adultery. So then, if a couple is married and one of them is unfaithful, the innocent person may get a divorce on the grounds of adultery, and in this case, the divorce is legitimate in the eyes of God. Meaning, God recognizes the divorce. It doesn’t mean that God commands the divorce; just that he permits or allows it in this case. Some people think that if their spouse is unfaithful they must get a divorce – not so. In fact, unless the adultery is persistent and unrepentant, they should forgive and reconcile with the guilty spouse. But in the case of persistent and unrepentant adultery, the couple is free to divorce. Now under the strict Old Testament moral code the penalty for adultery was death by stoning. Deuteronomy 20:10, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife . . . both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” So then under the strict Old Testament legal code the adulterer is stoned to death, freeing the innocent party from the marriage covenant. He or she is free to remarry and the new marriage wouldn’t be considered adultery because the former spouse is dead, and everyone knows that if one spouse dies the other is free to remarry without penalty. Later, under the forgiveness, mercy and grace of God, the death penalty for adultery was gradually set aside and divorce replaced it. By the time of Jesus, death for adultery was very rare, and divorce was the recognized response to the sin of adultery. According to Jesus, adultery is the only grounds for divorce, the only reason God would recognize a divorce. But there’s more.

Third, any grounds other than adultery for divorce leads to more adultery. Matthew 5:32, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Now follow this logic to understand what Jesus is saying. In the eyes of God the only legitimate reason for divorce is adultery (we’ll talk about Paul’s second exception later). So then, if the couple divorces for any other reason, it’s illegitimate in the eyes of God; it’s null and void; the divorce is bogus, it doesn’t count. In the eyes of God, divorce for any other reason than adultery isn’t truly a divorce. In the eyes of God the man and the woman are still married; nothing has changed in reality. So then the couple files for a bogus divorce on grounds other than adultery, and let us say society recognizes it as a divorce, although in the eyes of God it isn’t. Now being normal people who desire love and marriage, let us say, the two divorced people remarry. According to God they are now committing adultery and their new marriage partners are committing adultery with them. Why? Because they are still technically married to one another because their divorce wasn’t for biblical grounds and therefore wasn’t real in the eyes of God. That’s what Jesus means when he says the false divorce “causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” If we take seriously what Jesus is teaching, it means that most of the divorces and marriages that take place today are illegitimate, and most of the remarriages constitute adultery. Why? Because there were not proper grounds for divorce to begin with so the couple is still technically married. When they remarry to someone else, which they almost always do, their second marriage is considered adultery. Talk about a wicked and adulterous generation, we live in that today! Throw in all the promiscuity and pre-marital and extra-marital sex happening today, and it all boils down to this – we live in a world filled with adultery and adulterers and adulteresses. Is there any doubt that God’s judgment will come down upon this wicked and perverse generation? And it isn’t just the pagans, the worldly people who are committing adultery, it’s Christians too, or those who claim to be Christians. We need to tell people that a divorce is not legitimate just because they want it to be; it’s legitimate if it meets the proper grounds for divorce. If not, it doesn’t matter what the courts say or the couple thinks or people call it. If it doesn’t meet biblical standards there is no divorce. Any remarriage is adultery. That’s what Jesus is teaching here.

Now, what does all this mean for us today? It means that God expects people to carefully choose marriage partners and then once chosen to stay in those marriages until death do them part. It means that if one spouse commits adultery and is unfaithful to the sacred marriage vows, then the other spouse is permitted, not commanded, but permitted to divorce. Then and only then is it not adultery to remarry. If the grounds for the divorce are not legitimate, if they are not because of adultery, then the divorce is false and the couple is still technically married. If they remarry, they commit adultery. Now how does this apply to our day and age of freewheeling marrying and divorcing and remarrying, etc? It means that we must teach people to be very careful how they conduct themselves in the area of marriage and divorce because they could be sinning a great sin if they treat their marriage vows casually and carelessly, or if they treat divorce casually and carelessly. Adultery is a grave sin. In Old Testament times it was punishable by death. Today, it’s not punished by death, but in the eyes of God it’s a grave sin that may trigger the judgment or discipline of God upon an individual. People don’t realize today that they are testing and tempting God’s patience in regards to this sin. They are pushing their luck, they are daring God to punish them, and just because God in his mercy and grace doesn’t pour out his wrath immediately upon them they think all is well. No, all is not well. We can’t continually, persistently rebel and resist the laws of God and expect there to be no consequences. We haven’t yet seen the full result of our divorce culture, but we may yet see it in our lifetime; it may not be pretty, it may be disastrous. But what can we do as Christians? We can make sure that we conduct ourselves within the will of God in all areas, but especially in the area of marriage and remarriage if necessary. We can’t just do our own thing, follow our own thinking and feelings in this area because we just might be wrong. Before we marry, let’s make sure we are truly free to marry. If we ever have to divorce someone, let us make sure it is on proper grounds, on the grounds of adultery, and not this other, illegitimate grounds like incompatibility (whatever that means), or because we’ve “fallen out of love” with our spouse, or for emotional abuse or verbal abuse or some other kind of psychological or spiritual abuse. The whole concept of abuse is being used today in marriages as a weapon to shoot anyone we don’t like or want around us. In the spiritualist community of Lily Dale here in western New York, couples can file for divorce on the grounds of psychic abuse, for casting bad vibes towards a marriage partner. This is ridiculous. It’s bogus. We need to follow God’s Word and not be taken in by the world’s foolishness.


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