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Sermon on the Mount
“Divorce and Remarriage”
Today’s topic hits close to home because I was divorced as a Christian. I remember when the full impact hit as feelings of loneliness, despair, rejection and worthlessness overwhelmed me. But by the grace of God, and because of the love of Christian friends, I was able to endure.
But at the same time I began to understand, to a much smaller degree, what lepers must have felt like, as some people rejected me, making me feel as if I was somehow unclean.
A little over a year had passed and the Lord had healed me of a lot of the hurt and allowed me to attend seminary. Several of the seminaries sent my application back, however, wondering why I would apply, because I could never become a pastor, and one went so far as to say that at least I could still give.
When I attended a seminary I was talking to one missionary agency and there was extreme interest on both ends, especially my going overseas to teach in their seminaries. But when I told them I was divorced they politely closed their binders and told me they couldn’t use my services, and their reason had nothing to do with the bible, but with policy and the giving practices of their donors.
Up to this point I blindly accepted what those in authority and bible teachers taught, but these incidents prompted me to do a thorough study of the Scriptures and see if there was anything for me in God’s kingdom.
Today, I’d like to share with you some of what I found. Now, I’m no way saying my view is the only one, because there are many godly men and women who hold a different view, and it’s just as contentious today as it was in Jesus’ time.
Unfortunately due to time constraints I can’t cover every point or detail. Instead since we’re looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I’ll focus on the principles He brings out.
“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV)
This subject is brought up again in Matthew’s gospel which helps us understand better as to what was happening regarding this subject in Jesus’s day and His take on it.
Read Matthew 19:1-12
The Pharisees were testing Jesus, trying to embroil Him into a controversy that would split His support. There raged upon the Jews a controversy regarding divorce and no matter what side Jesus came down on it would alienate part of the crowd that followed.
Solomon rightly said that there’s nothing new under the sun, because the controversy still rages, and churches as well as friendships have been known to split over it. So we must agree to not to let it divide us, but rather to agree to disagree. Paul said that he determined to know nothing else amongst the people but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, 1 Corinthians 2:2.
The controversy stemmed from the word “er-vah” or “uncleanness” as found in the law.
Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4
There existed two schools of thought when it came to this word: the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel.
The school of Shammai adhered closely to the letter of the law and found that divorce was permitted for unfaithfulness.
The school of Hillel believed that it was lawful to divorce for any cause. Today we’d call this “No fault divorce,” or “Irreconcilable differences.”
It could be for the way she cooked, or that they didn’t love each other, or they wanted or didn’t want kids. Or it could be that he wanted a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad, but then remembered why he left home in the first place.
But Jesus refused to get sucked into the controversy. Instead He went back to the beginning, appealing to a higher interpretation. He appealed to God’s original design for marriage.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Jesus added that marriage was God ordained, and what God joined together no one, not even the laws of the land, was to separate. Clearly God intended marriage to be a permanent life-long union between a man and a woman.
By directing attention back to God’s original design, Jesus was proclaiming that marriage is a divine institution governed by the law of God, not the law of man.
Marriage was not a social institution as many view it as being, seeing how they’ve twisted it into what never was intended. Is it any wonder why so many marriages fail? It’s no longer viewed as God ordained, but ordained by an ever-changing society that no longer knows what truth really is.
Further, what we must understand is that Jesus directed us back to Gods’ perfect ideal for marriage prior to sin entering into the picture and hardening our hearts. This is important because many in their zeal have missed the point and added to the law what God never intended. In other words they are neglecting the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and faith.
To be clear, I’m not advocating a lessening of God’s ideal. As Christians we should endorse God’s design and strive to keep it, knowing that it’s a holy union.
Divorce should never be sought after, not even in its Christianized form of legal separation.
This is a violation of God’s holy law, and God despises it.
“‘For the Lord God of Israel says that He hates divorce, for it covers one’s garment with violence,’ Says the Lord of hosts. ‘Therefore take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’” (Malachi 2:16)
The word “violence” is another name for sin. The word is “chamas” and is also used for the word “leaven” that Jesus associated with the religious leaders’ sin of hypocrisy.
Therefore, not only should divorce not be sought after, seeing that God hates it, but the Christian should do everything possible to keep the marriage together.
The question, however, is did God who dislikes divorce permit divorce? And if so, is remarriage a viable option for those who’ve been divorced.
Let’s go back to Matthew 19
“They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.’” (Matthew 19:7-9)
First we see Jesus correcting a misunderstanding. God never commanded divorce, but in His mercy He permitted it due to humanity’s sinful condition. And in verse 9 we see what is called “The exception clause.” It’s the same thing Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.
What does “sexual immorality” mean? The Greek word is “porneia,” and it’s where we get our English word, “pornography.” It means prostitution, fornication, and any unlawful sexual intercourse including adultery.
God was serious about marriage, and any act that dishonors or destroys the marriage’s sacredness was severely dealt with.
In the Old Testament these acts were punished by death. This makes this whole subject of divorce and remarriage mute. If a person was put to death, the marriage was dissolved and the innocent party was permitted to remarry.
And so God in His mercy permitted divorce rather than death when it came to sexual immorality.
In the science of interpretation called hermeneutics, there’s a principle that states that if the behavior means something different in culture, then determine the timeless principle expressed in the practice.
In our culture these acts of sexual immorality are not condemned but condoned, and so what is the timeless principle God word gives us.
Therefore, as seen in what Jesus said, God intended the innocent party in cases of sexual immorality to be set free from the marriage bond.
Further, by placing upon the innocent party the guilty party’s sin by prohibiting remarriage is to make a new and stricter law and add a burden God never intended.
But is this God’s Best?
Realizing the severity of Jesus’ statement, the disciples thought it best not to marry. Jesus then stated something that seems totally off the wall to us. He describes three types of eunuchs, that is, those who are unable to have sex.
The three types were 1) those born that way, 2) those made that way through castration, and 3) those that chose it in order to live fully for God.
But when we say there is no remarriage due to the sin of another, then we’ve added a fourth class of eunuchs, one not intended by God. It would be those who are eunuchs not by choice, but due to another’s sin.
In his letter to the Corinthian Church chapter seven, Paul deals with another aspect of this. He starts by saying that if there is a divorce they should remain unmarried or reconciled. And if they are unequally yoked with an unbeliever and the unbeliever leaves, then the believer is loosed from the marriage bonds.
But Paul would like to spare us, because if we remarry under these conditions, we’ll have trouble.
“If you do marry, you have not sinned…Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.” (1 Corinthians 7:28)
Consider what happens to children of divorce. They experience tremendous separation anxiety and genuine fear the other parent will leave as well. The children don’t have the emotional ability to deal with such loss and therefore walk around like a ticking time bomb ready to go off at any time. They develop self-esteem problems and bouts of anger, depression, and aggression. They have a higher dropout rate and acting out sexually as teenagers.
And there are testimonies after testimonies of those who got divorced and had nothing but problems since that time, from emotional to financial, and also in any relationship that follow.
But what I find interesting is that as believers we tell our children to trust God, yet when we file for divorce or legal separation, what we’re telling them is that we’re hypocrites.
Also, where’s the forgiveness? The Scriptures clearly indicate that forgiveness is a believer’s proper response no matter what anybody else does, even for those who’ve committed sexual immorality in marriage.
The innocent party has been granted the right to divorce, but being granted the right doesn’t mean it should be exercised.
Through the prophet Hosea, God reveals the application of the higher law of forgiveness; that even though she continued in her immoral lifestyle, that of a prostitute, Hosea forgave her and took her back.
God is ever ready to forgive and take us back who have committed sin. And if God has so forgiven you and I, shouldn’t we forgive those who are unfaithful to the marriage?
We’ve all committed spiritual adultery in our relationship with God, and He forgives us, therefore we should forgive those who have committee sexual immorality.
Consider Jesus’ words,
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15 NIV)
Clearly God’s best is for the marriage to stay intact. God’s best is forgiveness and reconciliation, not divorce.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study