Tonight we're going to be continuing in Matthew's Gospel, and so I invite you to look with me at chapter 5:31-32, "It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 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.”
Tonight we are looking at the third example that Jesus uses where He is comparing the Jewish tradition to what God’s Law really says. And here He is giving us again an example of how the Pharisees and the Scribes reduced God’s standards by either adding to it or subtracting from it or changing the meaning of it.
Salvation is depending on living righteously and understanding the Law of God. Remember what Matthew 5:20 says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” So let us begin by going to the Word of God in these studies to see what God really said. And tonight we are focusing on divorce and remarriage.
God had a very clear command regarding this, but the Pharisees and scribes couldn't live by that standard, so they invented a new standard and called it God's standard and said, we can keep this one and so we’re alright. They invented their own code of ethics, and then they misinterpreted the Bible to fit their own view and way of life.
Now what God is ordaining here, and you have to know this, from the very beginning is monogamy, which is a relationship between one female and one male, that is, a life long marriage between a man and a woman. Notice Genesis 2:24, "A man shall leave his father and his mother, cleave to his wife; they shall be one flesh."
When two people are glued together they become one single individual, and so it says, "they shall be one flesh." And surely that refers to the sexual union but there is much more. He unites a man and a woman in a unique and profound biological and spiritual bond that reaches deep into their soul.
There is more in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 which in short says that if a man marries a woman and finds some indecency in her, he can divorce her with a certificate of divorce and if she marries someone else and he divorces her too, she cannot come back to her first husband because she has been defiled and that is an abomination to God.
How did she get defiled? God says she committed adultery by marrying another person while there was no reason to get a divorce. Moses says there is only one legitimate reason for divorce and that is sexual immorality and any other reason is not acceptable to God.
In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus is confronting the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees and the scribes, and the people who followed their teaching. And in Matthew 5:31 He says, hey make sure when you divorce your wife that you get the legal paperwork done, but I say, you shouldn't even divorce your wife.
That's why in Matthew 19:7 when they said to Jesus, "Well, why did Moses give us a bill of divorcement?" we read in verse 8, "He said unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce, but from the beginning it was not so." In other words, it was not a command, it was simply a permission based on their sinfulness.
God hates divorce. However, God knew, in a cursed world where sin existed and relationships were strained because of the curse itself, that divorce would be a reality. And so God permitted divorce but certain things had to be followed to insure what would come about as a result.
What was its purpose? It was a testimonial to the woman of her freedom from the marital obligation to the husband who divorced her. In the bill of divorcement was a statement that the woman was set free by the man so that she wouldn't be accused of being a harlot, she wouldn't be accused of having forsaken her home, or run off from her husband.
Secondly, the writing of divorcement was evidence for a new husband of her legal freedom to remarry. And by the way, remarriage in every bible passage that talks about divorce is always assumed. It's assumed in Deuteronomy, it's assumed in Matthew 5 and it's assumed in Matthew 19. And so the bill of divorce gave the woman the legal freedom to remarry.
Thirdly, it is a protection for a woman's reputation from slander. Now that's really what it was for, to show that she hadn't forsaken her husband, to show that she was free to remarry as far as her husband was concerned, and to show that she was not to be slandered as some harlot.
Now, as far as God was concerned such a writing of divorcement was only legitimate in one case, and that was a case of adultery, right? But listen, that is not to say that this was the only way. When Hosea had an adulterous wife, did he divorce her? No. When God had an adulterous nation, did He divorce them? No. When Christ has an adulterous believer in His Church, does He divorce them? No.
What does the Pharisee say and what does the self-righteous person say? They lowered God’s standard and said, “We can tolerate divorce and remarriage for any and all reasons.” This is what was said then in Jesus’ time and this is what people still are saying now.
Adultery was to be punished by death originally, but as time moved on it was not always followed. Sometimes lives were spared, sometimes apparently divorce would take place instead of a stoning, you know if a person committed adultery they were to be stoned but sometimes divorce would be the result, they were gracious.
Matthew 1 is a perfect illustration, where you find that Joseph has an option. He finds his wife Mary is pregnant, in verse 19, but being a just man, not wanting to make her a public example, he made up his mind to divorce her privately. He couldn't take her life because the Romans had taken away the right of the Jews to execute.
There were two different schools of rabbis who had differing views, and the one that was dominant in Jesus' time was that you could divorce your wife for anything, didn't matter what it was, burn the bagels, too much salt on the dinner, didn't like her mother-in-law or she went around without a veil or you found a prettier girl or anything you want, just divorce her, and their view was when you do it be sure you give her the paperwork, that's all.
And you know that’s the way it is right now with no fault divorce. People say this all the time, well the Lord really has given me peace about divorcing my wife. I heard a lady say that her husband tried to convince her that God allowed divorce because the feeling of love was gone and thereby we were no longer compatible. Their ex-Pastor told him that if he wasn't in love with me and saw no hope for our marriage and that he ought to get a divorce and the Christian marriage counselor told him the very same thing.
This is where the Church must provide leadership. What does the pastor say about divorce? Why are so many churches silent on this matter? Divorce even in the church has become so common that there are generations of Christians that have come to believe that divorce is simply a lifestyle option.
The story behind America’s love affair with no-fault divorce is a sad tale. Stephen Baskerville writes in the March 2005 edition of Crisis magazine that America’s embrace of easy divorce is the most significant reason that marriage now is threatened and, by some measures, hanging by a thread.
Where you have self-centered, where you have sinful carnal people who cannot sustain right relationships, and where you have a society with toleration for divorce you're going to have divorce on a rampant pandemic level, and that's exiting in our society right now.
This reality now means that any spouse can demand a divorce for any reason and be assured that the courts will award the divorce and will often grant disproportionate favor to the party seeking the divorce.
Barbara Whitehead, author of the book ‘The Divorce Culture’ points to the influence of therapy as a contributing factor. She explains, “the fault for marital breakup must be shared, even when only one spouse seeks a divorce. The assumption is that if any individual is unhappy, the other person must also be at fault.
And sadly often times the parent who demands a divorce is also the one most likely to retain custody of the children. Baskerville suggests that no-fault divorce “amounts to a public seizure of the innocent spouse’s children and invasion of his or her parental rights. And this is perpetrated by our government using our tax dollars.”
The number one cause of emotional problems in the lives of the next generation is divorce. The trend toward quick and easy divorce and the ever increasing divorce rate subjects more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents and the result is devastating.
The divorce rate has risen 700% in this century, and it continues to rise. There is now 1 divorce for every 1.8 marriages. Over 1 million children a year are involved in divorce cases, and 13 million children under 18 now have one or both parents missing."
What does Jesus say? He says: I hate divorce and I do not tolerate it for any reason except for sexual immorality.
So Jesus confronts them with a proper interpretation to show them that they were really adulterous sinners, they had misinterpreted completely Deuteronomy 24. And the point of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is not to advocate divorce for uncleanness but to show that if a man divorced his wife for less than adultery all he did was defile everybody when she remarried.
The reason you could never take her back again is because she is defiled as an adulteress, even though you've made her one, because you divorced her. So what is the Old Testament saying? His Word is telling you to stop divorce by showing that divorce leads to adultery.
Jesus is saying the same thing. You divorce for anything less than fornication or adultery and you create adulterers. And so He's saying to the Pharisees, don't come along and say, we're righteous and we never commit adultery. You divorce all over the place and leave a trail of adultery behind you.
Jesus says that they have to follow God’s standard, because they have decided based on their understanding of the law to design their own legal tradition, so they can claim that they're OK following it. So Jesus just sets this tradition aside and says, listen to the ideal and match yourself against that and see how you come out. So Jesus took marriage back to Gods ideal which is that marriage is always binding.
Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 one more legitimate reason for divorce and subsequent remarriage. He simply says in addition to what our Lord says, I who am inspired by the Spirit of God add this dimension. If you have an unbelieving spouse, do not separate, stay together, but if that unbeliever leaves, abandons you and divorces you, you the believer is not bound by that and is free to remarry.
What should we do? Since divorce exists in this fallen world because of sin, we must take biblical steps to avoid divorce at all cost.
We need to talk about divorce and remarriage with courage and candor. Stephen Baskerville is right; divorce is the greatest threat to the family and our society in our times. And we cannot expect to be taken seriously as defenders of marriage if we are not enemies of divorce.
God never intended for divorce. Yet people enter into a marriage today with the idea that if it doesn't work out we'll end it. And they wonder why people invest so much time and effort into making a right relationship because they figure it would be so much easier to just call it quits and find somebody else, and that's the way it is in our world today.
But if we see marriage the way God sees it we know that it is a monogamous life long oneness that God has desired. Divorce is like amputating your leg when you have a splinter; instead of dealing with the splinter you dump your partner. Why not deal first with the issue that's causing the problem?
That's why Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage is honorable in all." Why? Because the union between Christ and His own Church is symbolically proclaimed to the world in Christian marriage, and that is honorable. Christ's relationship to His Church is permanent, full of love, absolutely binding and wonderfully unique, and so this should be the same for your marriage and mine.
Marriage is not an end in itself, marriage was not designed primarily for our happiness, marriage was designed primarily to be an illustration on a human level of a divine relationship. Now is the relationship between Christ and His Church permanent? Yes. Then it is significant that marriage also be permanent, if in fact it is to reveal the truth about Christ and His Church.
Divorce is an affront to the glory of God and a sin that is expressly described in the Bible as an evil that God hates. Divorce is never God's way to resolve a conflict, never. That's why God never really condones divorce in the Bible. God knows it will happen, and God regulates its consequences, but it's never the solution.
Marriage is not the key to human happiness; God is the key to human happiness. If you're right with God then you can make a relationship work, both partners obviously have to cooperate.
Now listen beloved in closing, we live in the age of grace. If you're a Christian I want to tell you some good news. Everything you've ever done in the past is forgiven. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "And if any man be in Christ he is a new creation, old things have passed away and all things have become new!” Let's pray together.