God's View of Marriage

Matthew 5:31 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.

Jesus continues in this sermon we are looking at to turn heads with His radical counter cultural statements regarding life. When Jesus comes on the scene into this fallen and sinful world, He turns people’s thinking upside down. He did not come to condone cultural behavior but to challenge it on many levels. This still happens today. When we come to Christ, we can expect to have our thinking challenged. All that we are used to may not be what God desires for us. So He tells us in His word how things should be and what to expect. We may think we have it all together and then all of the sudden truth, real truth, challenges us. We can be surprised by what we learn and how different it is than what we have always thought. You may know how it is. You are going through life seemingly doing ok, and all of the sudden you read something or hear something and realize that what you thought you were doing was ok when in reality you learn that you were doing it all wrong.

You know how it is…20 years ago the medical community said we should eat this way and now we learn the opposite is true, or at least true for now! Eat red meat we were told…don’t eat red meat. Use this kind of cooking oil, not that one; use this other one. Take supplements…don’t take supplements. What is a person to do! Unlike the medical field or any other science or idea that people have, Jesus’ ways don’t change but they may be different than what we always thought.

Well, Jesus is turning heads, He is explaining things in new ways, and what He is talking about is much more important than the foods we choose to eat. Jesus is giving us insight into what God values and what God expects of us. He is describing how we should live in a way that is pleasing to Him and to His Father.

Now why is He doing this? He does this so we are clear on where God stands concerning the issues of life. This, what we read in this Sermon on the Mount including the part of it that we will talk through today, is where God stands. He is describing holiness and a perfect standard, God’s revealed standards.

Now immediately, we have a problem. Somewhere in this Sermon on the Mount, whether it is anger, lust, divorce, loving our enemies, giving to the needy, or not worrying about life, somewhere we all find weaknesses and sinful tendencies in our lives. No one can honestly read through the sermon on the mount and think they have it all together. So our problem may not be with this part of the Sermon on the Mount but somewhere in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem is that we are not perfect, we are not perfectly holy, we have failed in many ways and we can see our failures in this Sermon on the Mount. So what then? What do we do when our sin is revealed to us? We turn to Christ.

All of this then, the holiness of God, points us to Christ. None of us have lived out the Sermon on the Mount without falling so the answer for us is Jesus Christ. He is our rescuer. He rescues us from our failures. He is the perfect One who lived out all the expectations of the Father perfectly. He alone is Holy and He alone is qualified to be our Savior.

Please don’t ignore this truth as we study these passages together. We need Jesus, not just a good Teacher or a good role model but we need Jesus to rescue us from our sins and to be, in a very real way, our Savior.

So when we grapple with and come to this conclusion that we need a Savior and Jesus is that Savior then we can take what Jesus says and we can say ok, I’m a sinner; I have sinned but there is a solution and the Solution is the person of Jesus. We can be honest about our sin, not minimize it, not convince ourselves that it’s not a big deal, not trying to convince others that we are anything other than a sinner. We can recognize our sin. Repent, yes, but also rejoice and find joy in knowing that Jesus is our loving solution.

When we get to this place then when we read about God’s view of divorce and say you have been divorced, then we don’t have to convince ourselves or others that maybe the passage doesn’t mean what it says. We don’t have to say well, God is neutral on divorce or He doesn’t really dislike divorce. No, we can say that our Holy God hates divorce, I’ve been divorced, I am a sinner. Repent and agree with God.

In other words, if we don’t see ourselves for who we are and Jesus for what He did then we may, as many people do, try to explain away much of the Bible as not meaning what it clearly means, as if to say well I know it says divorce is wrong but really it’s not that bad or really it means this other thing or whatever. No, we can take the Bible for what it says and believe it. And even when it hits closer to home with us on a sin issue, we can believe it and be thankful for Jesus who has taken our place, our punishment for such sin.

So as we talk about divorce today, don’t think I am condemning any of you or that there is no hope for you—I’m not and there is. I am not condemning you, that is not my place and there is hope for you—that is because of the work of Jesus. But let’s be honest about the passage! So with that…let’s dive in and see what God has for us.

Jesus said in verse 31:

Matthew 5:31 It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.”

When Jesus said, “It was said,” he is about to clarify for us some matter of truth. We know this because in verse 32 Jesus said, “But I say to you.” It was said…but I say. In other words, this is what you have thought to be true in total, but I’m going to elaborate, clarify and give you a new understanding or a fuller understanding on this topic, clear up misconceptions and even wrong teaching on this matter. And again we need to see this as a major shift in what they had thought to be true.

Since this passage is about marriage and divorce I want to first of all talk about God’s view of marriage, God’s intention for marriage. Here is God’s view of marriage from Matthew 19:3-9:

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 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?’”

Let me pause here. When Jesus quotes here from Genesis 2 and says that the man shall hold fast to his wife, the hold fast there is a word that means to to “weld” together. Most of us are not welders but let me say this: A good weld should be stronger than the steel that it is holding together. So marriage between a man and a woman is to create a bond that cannot be broken. This was God’s intent when He created marriage.

Matthew 19:6 “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 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. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

Jesus was asked why Moses commanded one to give a certificate of divorce, and Jesus said it is because of their hardness of heart that Moses allowed divorce. Divorce was never commanded but was allowed.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 are based on Deuteronomy 24:1 but are not an exact quotation of it. In Deuteronomy 24:1–4 the main clause, or the main point, is in verse 4. As is often the case, we or they can take a verse and miss the main point causing great confusion. Let me read this passage, Deuteronomy 24:1-4, because we need to see what it says and why it was said.

Deuteronomy 24:1 When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The prohibition here is of the reunion of a divorced couple after the woman has remarried and her second marriage has ended (by divorce or the husband’s death). The original divorce, with its formal certificate (v. 1) is simply assumed (not commanded), but neither here nor elsewhere in the Old Testament is divorce explicitly approved. This passage was, however, universally accepted among Jesus’ contemporaries as permitting a husband to divorce his wife, and condoning it; Matt. 19:7 shows that not only the certificate (as here) but the divorce itself was regarded as “commanded” by Moses. This is a hardening the Mosaic acceptance of divorce as a fact (that divorce does happen) and turning it into a legal precept.

Now, the permissible grounds for divorce were debated in Jesus day. One school of thought was that divorce was restricted to “some indecency sexually” that could be authenticated, but the main school of thought was that divorce was acceptable for any reason that a husband would have—that the indecency mentioned in Deuteronomy 24:1 was simply anything the husband didn’t like in his wife. So any complaint became grounds for divorce; it was very one-sided, men could and would divorce for about any reason.

The result was then that a man could and often did marry and divorce many women and did so on not much more than a whim. And unfortunately, he thought that God and the Bible condoned his behavior.

So what Jesus is doing here is clarifying, narrowing the scope of divorce to only include sexual immorality. Jesus is elevating the importance of marriage and its sacredness. He is also, I would say, protecting women from frivolous divorce. Women, if their husbands divorced them, were mostly unable to take care of themselves in this first century society. So they were left helpless and these selfish men were to blame. So Jesus is laying out God’s true view, God’s true purpose regarding marriage and it’s priority. It is not something to be frivolous with.

What we call the exception clause for divorce is there, which is sexual immorality (generally thought to be adultery), but it is narrow in scope, protecting the innocent spouse. But even then, divorce is not commanded.

So to sum up, God’s intent is that marriage between a man and a woman be permanent, until death parts them. Why? Because marriage as God created it is a picture of a solemn and permanent relationship between Christ and His Bride the Church. As Christians, Jesus does not divorce us, though we sin against Him. This is the perfect marriage. This is a spiritual union that shows the character and commitment of the groom, Jesus Christ. Though we commit spiritual adultery (sin) against Him, He does not forsake us.

We read of this in Ephesians 5:

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

It’s a beautiful picture and one that we get to represent as Christian men and women in marriage. It is easy to see that if people are all around divorcing that the picture gets tainted and what marriage represents is lost. So what do we do? We uphold the picture. We show the world what marriage is to be a life-long commitment to another, a loving life-long commitment to each other.

I’m afraid that when most get married, even Christians, the reasons for marriage is much more about another person making us happy than it is of representing God to the world. And when marriage becomes making us happy and that alone, then divorce can come easy. Let’s work to uphold the picture of marriage, let’s do the hard work of loving in marriage the way our Lord loves us.

Some of you may say, well it’s too late for me, I’ve already divorced. I will say, it’s not too late for you. You can still represent God well. You can first repent before God if you have been divorced in an unbiblical way where there was not adultery. Confess sin as sin, repent before God and receive His forgiveness.

If you have remarried then live in your marriage with a commitment to please God and uphold the picture of Christ and the church. Be committed to your spouse, ask God to help you love your spouse for the glory and honor of God.

Matthew 5:31 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.